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Shaul Kelner is Associate Professor of Sociology and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University, and director of Vanderbilt’s Program in Jewish Studies. His research addresses the intersection of culture and politics, and focuses particularly on how cultural practices are mobilized to shape contemporary Jewish political identities.
His award-winning book, Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage and Israeli Birthright Tourism (NYU Press, 2010), examines how modern mass tourism is being developed as a means of engaging diaspora Jews with the State of Israel. Other work, focusing on social movements as agents of cultural change, includes research into the role of religious ritual as a protest tactic in the American movement to free Soviet Jews (1964-1991), and a study of how religious and secular identities are being negotiated in the present-day environmental movement in Israel. With a grant from the AVI CHAI Foundation, he has studied how shifting power dynamics in American Jewish philanthropy are reshaping the landscape of Jewish cultural production.
Prof. Kelner received his Ph.D in Sociology in 2002 from the City University of New York, which he attended as a Wexner Graduate Fellow. Before arriving at Vanderbilt in 2005, he was Senior Research Associate at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, where his research focused on issues of identity, education, leadership and gender equity in the American Jewish community.
He has been a Fellow of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Advanced Studies (2004), and a visiting scholar in Tel Aviv University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology (2008-9). He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Association for Jewish Studies, and as chair of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Selection Committee.
For his book, Tours That Bind, Prof. Kelner is the recipient of the Association for Jewish Studies’ 2010 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in the category of Social Sciences, Anthropology and Folklore, and an honorable mention for the American Sociological Association Culture Section’s 2011 Mary Douglas Book Prize.
Prof. Kelner lectures nationally and internationally on the sociology of contemporary Jewish life.