Professor Derek J Penslar, Stanley Lewis Professor of Israel Studies, delivered his inaugural lecture entitled What is Israel Studies, co-hosted by the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, the Department of Politics and International Relations, and St Annes College.
Over the past decade, faculty positions in Israel Studies have been created at universities throughout the English-speaking world. This burst of growth has been fed in part by serious academic interest in a small yet highly visible country and in part by political controversies surrounding the country and the way it is represented on university campuses. The proliferation of Israel Studies positions has, ironically, only intensified those controversies. This lecture discusses what it means for Israel Studies to be an academic discipline and how it can best be integrated into the university environment. The lecture demonstrates the contributions Israel Studies can make to public discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its possible resolution. At the same time, it argues that scholarship on Israel must have a life of its own and must not be boxed in by political dictates or mobilized in the service of a moral cause.