Unortho­dox Kin: Por­tuguese Mar­ra­nos and the Glob­al Search for Belonging

Nao­mi Leite
  • From the Publisher
December 21, 2017

Unortho­dox Kin is a ground­break­ing explo­ration of iden­ti­ty, relat­ed­ness, and belong­ing in a glob­al era. In urban Por­tu­gal today, hun­dreds of indi­vid­u­als trace their ances­try to 15th cen­tu­ry Jews forcibly con­vert­ed to Catholi­cism, and many now seek to rejoin the Jew­ish peo­ple as a whole. For the most part, how­ev­er, these self-titled Mar­ra­nos (“hid­den Jews”) lack any direct expe­ri­ence of Jews or Judaism, and Por­tu­gal’s tiny, tight­ly knit Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty offers no clear path of entry. Accord­ing to Jew­ish law, to be rec­og­nized as a Jew one must be born to a Jew­ish moth­er or pur­sue reli­gious con­ver­sion, an anath­e­ma to those who feel their ances­tors’ Judaism was cru­el­ly stolen from them. After cen­turies of famil­ial Catholi­cism, and hav­ing been refused inclu­sion local­ly, how will these self-declared ances­tral Jews find belong­ing among the Jew­ish fam­i­ly,” writ large? How, that is, can peo­ple reject­ed as strangers face-to-face become mem­bers of a glob­al imag­ined com­mu­ni­ty — not only rhetor­i­cal­ly, but experientially?

Leite address­es this ques­tion through inti­mate por­traits of the lives and expe­ri­ences of a net­work of urban Mar­ra­nos who sought con­tact with for­eign Jew­ish tourists and out­reach work­ers as a means of gain­ing edu­ca­tion­al and moral sup­port in their quest. Explor­ing mutu­al imag­in­ings and direct encoun­ters between Mar­ra­nos, Por­tuguese Jews, and for­eign Jew­ish vis­i­tors, Unortho­dox Kin deft­ly tracks how visions of self and kin evolve over time and across social spaces, end­ing in an unex­pect­ed path to belong­ing. In the process, the analy­sis weaves togeth­er a diverse set of cur­rent anthro­po­log­i­cal themes, from inter­sub­jec­tiv­i­ty to inter­na­tion­al tourism, class struc­tures to the con­struc­tion of iden­ti­ty, cul­tur­al log­ics of relat­ed­ness to tran­scul­tur­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion. A com­pelling evo­ca­tion of how ideas of ances­try shape the present, how feel­ings of kin­ship arise among far-flung strangers, and how some find mys­ti­cal con­nec­tion in a world said to be dis­en­chant­ed, Unortho­dox Kin is a mod­el study for anthro­pol­o­gy today.

This acclaimed book will appeal to a wide audi­ence inter­est­ed in anthro­pol­o­gy, soci­ol­o­gy, and reli­gious stud­ies. Its acces­si­ble, nar­ra­tive-dri­ven style makes it espe­cial­ly well-suit­ed for intro­duc­to­ry and advanced cours­es in gen­er­al cul­tur­al anthro­pol­o­gy, ethnog­ra­phy, the­o­ries of iden­ti­ty and social cat­e­go­riza­tion, and the study of glob­al­iza­tion, kin­ship, tourism, and religion.

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