Courses

Art and Culture

Purpose, Conflict, and Resolution: Leonard Cohen's Vision

Organization: Shalem College

Study of Jewish culture often focuses too much on what the self-proclaimed experts think is important about Judaism. While we can count on rabbis, academics, and traditional teachers to help us contextualize and interpret Jewish experience, we cannot understand Judaism without asking what Jews themselves are actually experiencing.

Very often Jewish experience—the nurturing of ideas and emotions around faith, community, identity, and meaning--depends on culture from outside of tradition. Consider the massive impact of film, literature, art, music, television, and popular media and creativity on how Jewish identities have been shaped for the past century.

Leonard Cohen offers a compelling vision of how Jewish and popular culture can meet. Raised in a Jewishly engaged home in Montreal, he was a prominent poet and novelist for a decade before emerging in the late 1960’s as an acclaimed singer-songwriter. Now eighty years old after many twists and turns in his career, Cohen is more popular than ever, touring and recording continually.

There may be no contemporary musician who has engaged themes of the spirit in a more sophisticated, lasting way than Leonard Cohen. He combines deep Jewish knowledge, hipster iconoclasm, and years of study and practice in Zen Buddhism in songs and writing that bring ancient spiritual themes of divinity, suffering, enlightenment, and love to the landscape of pop.

This course explores Cohen’s perspectives on Spiritual Purpose, Worldly Conflict, and Resolution with the Divine, offering a voice of human faith, curiosity, empathy, and theology that not only entertains and inspires beyond any particular tradition, but also challenges and enriches Jewish practice and experience specifically.

The course is based on listening to and discussing a set of Leonard Cohen’s songs—with occasional poems or excerpts from interviews.

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