16.07.2020 – Leo Strauss in Exile in Paris and the formation of Jewish-Islamic paradigm

Cedric Cohen Skalli (Bucerius Institute for Research of Contemporary German History and Society, University of Haifa)

Leo Strauss in Exile in Paris and the formation of Jewish-Islamic paradigm

In 1930, Leo Strauss published his Die Religionskritik Spinozas atthe publishing house of the Berlin Akademie für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. In 1932 He left Germany for Paris, where he soon found himself definitively exiled from Germany, and forced to search both for a land of refuge and for a new philosophical orientation. During his stay in Paris (1932-1935), Strauss interacted with a series of intellectual émigrés such as Alexandre Koyré (1892-1964), Alexandre Kojève (1902-1968), Shlomo Pines (1908-1990), and Paul Kraus (1904-1940). During these years and later during his subsequent stay in London (1935-1937), Strauss developed his ideas concerning the necessity of a new appreciation of the medieval political model developed by the great Arabic and Jewish philosophers (from the 8th to the 13th Century). In Paris Strauss perfected his knowledge of Medieval Jewish and Islamic political philosophy. For this purpose, he made contact with Etienne Gilson (1884-1978), who had just been appointed Professor at the Collège de France. Leo Strauss also frequented with the leading Islamic scholar, Louis Massignon (1883-1963), whom he describes to his friends Gerhard Krüger, Jakob Klein and Karl Löwith as “incredibly knowledgeable, extremely smart and an ardent soul.” Through Massignon, Strauss became acquainted with Henry Corbin (1903-1962). By exchanging with these great intellectual figures, as well as with his brother in law Karl Kraus (the wunderkind of the Islamic studies), Strauss discovered a new approach to the philosophical and mystical Islamic tradition and came to the idea of reconsidering completely the Islamic contribution to the constitution of the Medieval Jewish philosophy of revealed Law. In this seminar, I wish to present the state of my research on the connections of Leo Strauss to the group of new Islamic Scholars  gathered around the figure of Louis Massignon in 1930s an 1940s.

Dr. Cedric Cohen Skalli teaches early modern and modern Jewish Philosophy at the University of Haifa. He is the director of the Bucerius Institute for the research of contemporary German History and Society. His research focuses on the relationship of Jewish thinkers to two main philosophical shifts: the shift from Medieval philosophy to early modern thought (14th-17thcentury), and the shift from early modern to modern thought (18th-20thcentury). He published three books and many articles on diverse aspects of Jewish thought and literature in the Renaissance and several essays on German 20th century philosophy. He is also translator of many works of Freud, Benjamin, Scholem, Idel and Abravanel.