Buell Hall (East Gallery), Columbia University, 515 West 116th Street, New York
Clemence Boulouque unveils an overview of religious responses to epidemics, from Exodus to the coronavirus, and of literary description of diseases, from Boccacio and Goethe, to Camus and Octavia Butler. Both scriptures and literary texts function as vehicles of social criticism. They allow us to engage with questions of collective guilt, collective mourning, divine justice (or lack thereof), and grapple with the societal disruptions, persecution and discriminations that illnesses create or expose. While some of the parallels with our current times are obvious, these texts also help us nuance the responses to past epidemics, and read them anew. Boulouque's research is also an invitation to read scriptures as literature and to ponder the uses of religious imagination in order to come up with new ways of imagining what brings us together when disaster befalls us.
Clemence Boulouque, Carl and Bernice Witten Associate Professor of Jewish and Israel Studies