Keynote 2

Sa 29.9.2018 | 11:30 - 12:30

Raum H

Evelyn Torton Beck (USA)


a three way conversation between Evelyn Torton Beck, Doris Ingrisch and Marion Mangelsdorf,  feminist scholars across the generations

Even before Evelyn Torton Beck’s work became rooted in feminism, she challenged the academic status quo.  Because of her gender (female) and as an older woman (36), as well as the Jewish focus of her first book (Kafka and the Yiddish Theater: Its Impact on his Work, 1972) she was rejected by the university when a young male candidate who had not yet completed his dissertation (on Kafka!) was offered the position for which she had applied. Beck challenged this decision and surprisingly, won, thus validating the words of feminist poet Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you.“ 

From the beginning, Beck understood in her bones that she must fight against injustices, which became her life’s mission as a scholar-teacher-activist. With her feminist work across multiple disciplines (literature, art, music, psychology, pedagogy) she fought to create new fields of study, such as Women’s Studies, and within it, Lesbian Studies and Jewish Women’s Studies, which are not separable. 

To protect these fields she was a founder of the National Women’s Studies Association and its Lesbian and Jewish caucuses (among others). Taking an inclusive, intersectional, feminist stance, she called out and worked against anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, and many other forms of oppression that were (and still are) evident in curriculum building, scholarship and in defining what counts as knowledge, as well as biased discrepancies in salary distribution, workloads, promotions, and other institutional factors that govern the lives of all who dwell within the university.

Her ground-breaking book, Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology (1982/1987) broke through academic boundaries to bring visibility and give voice to Jewish lesbians – a group that had been both hidden and reviled. This book was the first to acknowledge the existence of dual prejudices: anti-Semitism among lesbians and feminists, homophobia among Jews and it also made visible the diversity within each of these communities. The poems, essays and portraits of Jewish lesbian lives across lines of geography, social class, race, age, dis/ability, and other differences were an early example of intersectional work.

Beck is also known as the “grandmother of Yiddish studies,” because after completing her work on Kafka and translating I.B. Singer’s Yiddish stories, she realized that the Modern Language Association (MLA) failed to include Yiddish, thus invalidating its literature. Disrupting the status quo, she gathered hundreds of signatures petitioning the MLA. As a result, a Yiddish section was created and continues to flourish. Beck was featured in a film about the process of translating with Isaac Bashevis Singer (The Muses of I. B. Singer, 2016) in which she also critiques his misogyny.

Born in Vienna, under the cloud of Hitler’s coming to power, after her father was miraculously released from Dachau and Buchenwald in 1939, Beck escaped to Italy with her nuclear family, arriving in the USA in 1940 on the last boat out of Italy. As a child survivor of the Holocaust and the child of working class immigrant parents, Beck never expected to become a professor, let alone a Professor Doktor Doktor – earning Ph.D.s in Comparative Literature (1969) and Clinical Psychology (2004). Her psychology dissertation was a study of confluences and creativity (Physical Illness, Psychological Woundedness and The Healing Power of Art in the Life and Work of Franz Kafka and Frida Kahlo, 2004). (“Kahlo’s World split Open,” 2006).

To complete her dissertation in psychology, Beck retired from the University of Maryland in 2002, and she has since also has retired from interpersonal psychotherapeutic work. By keeping up a connection with the Fielding Graduate Institute by teaching in its Somatics and Phenomenology Program, she has continued to do research using feminist phenomenology and auto-ethnography. (“Sacred Circle Dance in a Wheelchair,” 2017). She continues to do healing work by teaching the practice of Sacred Circle Dance, an international movement which aims to integrate mind/body/spirit and hopes to bring about social transformation. Papers cited available on


Doris Ingrisch,, Historikerin und Kulturwissenschafterin, Professorin für Gender Studies am Institut für Kulturmanagement und Gender Studies (IKM), mdw – Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien, Mitglied der Plattform Gender_mdw

Marion Mangelsdorf, Dr. phil., Kulturwissenschaftlerin. Direktorin des Zentrums für Anthropologie und Gender Studies, Koordiniatorin des BMBF-Verbundprojekts „Gendering MINT digital“ und Mitarbeiterin am Sonderforschungsbereich "Muße. Grenzen, Raumzeitlichkeit, Praktiken“. Mitglied der Forschungsgruppe "MBody. Künstlerische Forschung in Medien, Somatik, Tanz und Philosophie“.