Sarah Imhoff

Sarah Imhoff

Associate Professor, Religious Studies

Associate Professor, Borns Jewish Studies Program

Affiliated Faculty, Gender Studies

Affiliated Faculty, Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society

Adjunct Faculty, History

Education

  • Ph.D., University of Chicago, 2010

About Sarah Imhoff

I am broadly interested in religion and the body. My research asks questions about how bodies and their attributes, such as gender, race, and ability, shaped and are shaped by religion. Underwriting many of my research projects are questions about how embodiment makes religious meaning, and how religious discourse makes bodies.

My first book, Masculinity and the Making of American Judaism, argues that American Jewish men in the early twentieth century were gendered differently from American norms, and that this masculinity helped acculturated Jews argue for the value of an American Judaism.

I have also written about the meaning of Jewishness in contemporary American contexts. I am especially interested in the ways that race, DNA, and medical knowledge shape what it means to be Jewish—or even who is a Jew—today.

My current research project is a study of religion and the body, centering on Jessie Sampter, an early twentieth-century American Zionist. But Sampter’s own life and body hardly matched typical Zionist ideals: while Zionism celebrated the strong and healthy body, Sampter spoke of herself as “crippled” from polio and plagued by weakness and sickness her whole life; while Zionism applauded reproductive (women’s) bodies, Sampter never married or bore children—in fact, she wrote of homoerotic longings and had same-sex relationships we would consider queer. So how did a queer, “crippled” woman become a leading voice of American Zionism, and why has history largely overlooked her? This microhistory explains how we make of a Zionist whose embodied experiences did not conform to Zionist ideals— and suggests that this conflict between embodiment and religious thought was far from unique in American religious experience.

My work has appeared in the Journal of Religion, Religion and American Culture, American Jewish History, Religious Studies Review, Jewish Social Studies, and other academic journals and edited volumes.

I am also co-editor of the journal American Religion.

Journal articles & other publications

“Where are the Women in Jewish Studies” July 3, 2018, co-authored with Susannah Heschel Forward https://forward.com/culture/404416/where-are-all-the-women-in-jewish-studies/

“Belief” Religion, Law, USA, ed. Joshua Dubler and Isaac Weiner (NYU Press, forthcoming)

"Racial Standing: How American Jews Imagine Community, and Why That Matters" Approaches to Race and Jewish Ethics, ed. Jonathan Crane (Penn State University Press, forthcoming)

“Religion, Geography, and the Impossibility of Jewish Identity” in Theorizing “Religion” in Graeco-Roman Antiquity, ed. Nickolas Roubekas (Equinox, 2019)

“Jews, Jewish Studies, and the Study of Islam” Identity, Politics, and the Study of Islam: Current Dilemmas in the Study of Religion, ed. Matthew Sheehy (Equinox, 2018)

“Why Disability Studies Needs to Take Religion Seriously” Religions 8.9 (2017)

“Lineage Matters: DNA, Race, and Gene Talk in Judaism and Messianic Judaism” coauthored with Hillary Kaell Religion and American Culture 26.2 (2017)

“Hoover's Judeo-Christians: Jews, Judaism, and Communism in the Cold War” in “True Faith and Allegiance”: Religion and the FBI, eds. Sylvester A. Johnson and Steven Weitzman (University of California Press, 2017)

Recent courses

  • American Jewish History
  • Jews, Christians, Muslims
  • Judaism and Gender
  • Jews and Race
  • Gender and Rabbinic Literature

Awards & Honors

  • Indiana Arts & Humanities Council (2018-19)
  • Hadassah-Brandeis Research Award, Senior category (2017)
  • College Arts and Humanities Institute (2016-17)
  • New Frontiers (2016-17)
  • Ostrom Program Grant (2016-17)