Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Genealogical Science: The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

The Genealogical Science: The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology

Article excerpt

Nadia Abu El-Haj. The Genealogical Science: The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2012. 328 pages. Hardcover $35.00

This work critically explores the genomic practices that increasingly inform and reconfigure the past focusing primarily on analyzing the construction of genomic past in researching the Jewish origin. The book begins with analyzing the scientific work and social implications of the flourishing field of genetic history. As a biological discipline that relies on genetic data to reconstruct the geographic origins of contemporary populations - their histories of migration and genealogical connections to other present-day groups - this historical science is garnering ever more credibility and social reach in large part due to a growing industry in ancestry testing.

Abu El-Haj analyzes the implications of the work and its cultural and political effects. It is also richly perceptive about the epistemological, political, and cultural presuppositions of the scientific work itself. It discusses how human population genetics not only reproduces existing concepts of race and creates new ones, but also how it biologizes notions of human diversity. But, as Talal Asad commented: "this book is not simply another story of the ideological uses to which science may be put. Nadia Abu El-Haj has provided the reader with a very detailed analysis of the historical entanglement between science and politics."

Abu El-Haj 's book examines three distinct moments in science and politics: race science, circa 1900, population genetics, circa 1950, and genetic history starting in the 1990s. Abu Al-Haj "analyzes studies undertaken by European and American Jewish scientists at the turn of twentieth century on the racial composition of the Jews." This, she argues, "fashioned a particular and ultimately enduring understanding of Jewish peoplehood, which articulated fundamental hurdles to be overcome for a new Hebrew nation and individual to be born" (4). Next, Abu El-Haj analyzes the work of Israeli population genetics in the 1950s and 1960s after the establishment of the state. Abu El-Haj reads this work "as expressing a desire - indeed, a need - to find 'content' for the a priori nationalist belief in the fact of Jewish peoplehood." Finally, and the central quest of the book, Abu El-Haj explores genetic history projects "to identify the origins of contemporary Jewry that have been carried out, by and large, by self identified Jewish scientists. …

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