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Religion and Holocaust Memory

The mass-murder of European Jews during the Nazi era, an event common named ‘the Holocaust’, has increasingly come to be known as representing some of the darkest potentials of Western society. Ways in which the event’s implications have been understood have nonetheless altered markedly over time and between locations, variously shaped by political, cultural, and religious factors. Earlier elements of my research on this topic focused on Jewish religious writings in N. America from the 1960s onwards, particularly using reception of the Bible as a prism for understanding how Holocaust memory created new readings and representations of biblical material.

In more recent work I have begun to consider the religious dimensions of Holocaust memory in contemporary Britain, as during the 21st century public remembrance has grown markedly through the establishment of a memorial day, educational initiatives, a Prime Ministerial commission, and the construction of a new national memorial site next to the Houses of Parliament. The new research has been disseminated through journal articles for Modernism/Modernity and Material Religion, and conference papers for the American Academy of Religion, the British Association of Holocaust Studies, and the International Society of Religion, Literature and Culture. One key strand of this research has been the project ‘Engaging with the Holocaust in Secondary RE’, funded by the St Luke’s Foundation. The project has featured an academic workshop assessing tensions and debates surrounding Holocaust representation in the RE classroom, a training event for teachers in the South West, and a conference panel on Holocaust memory, educational policy, and government-led concepts of ‘British Values’.

The historian Dan Stone notes that by some international standards ‘Britain came relatively late to Holocaust consciousness’. But it is now the case that Holocaust memory is becoming consolidated as a key ethical marker within a fluid religious-secular landscape. I anticipate that the ‘Engaging with the Holocaust in Secondary RE’ marks one element of scoping work for what will be ongoing research in this difficult, but important and complex subject area.

Dr David Tollerton