New Book Has Important Implications for Jewish and Christian Theology

Press Contact: Nina Jacobson
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December 9, 2009, New York, NY

I hope that you read Mittleman's book . . . as a work of impassioned, fluent, well-informed philosophising it is very impressive.—Jonathan Wright, The Catholic Herald

How and why should hope play a key role in a twenty-first-century democratic politics?

In his new book, Hope in a Democratic Age (Oxford University Press, August 2009), Dr. Alan Mittleman, director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies and the Tikvah Institute for Jewish Thought of The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), offers a philosophical exploration of the theme, contending that a modern construction of hope as an emotion is deficient. In its place, he reconstructs the medieval understanding of hope as a virtue. In this framework, hope is less a spontaneous reaction than it is a choice against despair; a decision to live with confidence and expectation, based on a rational assessment of possibility and a faith in the underlying goodness of life.

In cultures shaped by biblical teaching, hope is thought praiseworthy. Dr. Mittleman explores the religious origins of the concept of hope in the Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, rabbinic literature, and Augustine. After tracing the roots of both the praise and the criticism of hope in tragic thinkers, he argues on behalf of a sober form of hope.

Without diminishing the wisdom found in tragedy, a strong argument emerges in favor of hope as a way of taking responsibility for the world. Drawing on insights from scriptural and classical texts, philosophers, and theologians—ancient and modern—Dr. Mittleman builds a compelling case for placing hope at the center of democratic political systems.

Through the Finkelstein and Tikvah institutes at JTS, Dr. Mittleman brings programs at the intersection of religion and public affairs to JTS and the general community and develops programs and courses that promote constructive Jewish philosophy. The author of three previous books on Jewish thought and political theory, as well as the editor of four volumes on religion and politics, Dr. Mittleman’s current project is a book entitled A Short History of Jewish Ethics. His many articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in such journals as Harvard Theological Review, Modern Judaism, the Jewish Political Studies Review, the Journal of Religion, and First Things.

From 2000 to 2004, Dr. Mittleman served as director of the major research project, "Jews and the American Public Square," which was initiated by the Pew Charitable Trusts. An active participant in interfaith dialogue throughout his career, he was part of a leadership delegation that met with Pope John Paul II and has lectured at the Gregorian University in Rome. During the bicentennial of the US Constitution, Dr. Mittleman spoke on the meaning of religious liberty for American Jews in the chambers of the US Senate. The recipient of a Harry Starr Fellowship in Modern Jewish History from Harvard University's Center for Jewish Studies, Dr. Mittleman was visiting professor of Religion at Princeton University in 2007.

Hope in a Democratic Age is available for purchase on