Dr David Tollerton
Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies and Contemporary Religion
During the 2019-20 academic year I hold a full-time research fellowship with the Leverhulme Trust. I am currently writing a book entitled Holocaust Memory and the Religious-Secular Landscape of Contemporary Britain for Routledge's Studies in Religion series. In its first half attention will be given to the varied meanings of public Holocaust memory for Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and post-Christian communities. In its second half, focus will turn to the ways in which state-supported Holocaust remembrance activities are intertwined with perceptions of sacrality. It will be the first study to examine Holocaust remembrance and British religiosity/secularity in relation to one another, and will break new ground as an interdisciplinary treatment of Holocaust studies and religious studies. The book will argue that critical consideration of this interface is necessary for a better understanding of both contemporary British public life and for a sustainable culture of remembrance and national self-examination.
My earlier 2012 monograph, The Book of Job in Post-Holocaust Thought, considered the use of Job’s archetypal story amidst Jewish reflections on persecution during the Nazi period, highlighting the extent to which interpretive traditions, contemporary politics, and debates about history shape the meaning given to the biblical text.
My current research work concerns public Holocaust memory in contemporary Britain, its relationship with religious/secular communities, and perceptions of sacredness. The main output will be a book with Routledge's Studies in Religion series.
The project looks at two key phenomena in relation to one another: (i) the rapid 21st century rise in state-supported public Holocaust remembrance activities, and (ii) the religious-secular flux of contemporary Britain characterised by increased diversity, media/political controversies regarding inclusion and belonging, and the decline in people self-identifying as Christian.
I will put forward these central claims:
- that public Holocaust memory interacts differently with, and has (sometimes awkwardly) divergent meanings for, varied religious and secular groupings within British society;
- that evocations of sacred language, ritual, and transformative experience surround remembrance activities to a degree that Holocaust memory now has a crucial role for British value-building, public performance, and the navigation of Christianity’s decline as a central structure of social life.
I argue that it is imperative to open cross-disciplinary discussion of these phenomena. It is imperative so that Holocaust remembrance is not conceptually homogenized in a manner that overlooks the diverse situations, histories, and self-understandings of distinct religious and secular communities. It is also imperative so that evocations of the sacred do not hinder difficult but necessary conversations regarding (i) the relationship between Holocaust memory and critical remembrance of wider British history, (ii) the sustainability and stability of memorialisation in light of its rapid and remarkable growth, and (iii) the interactions of public Holocaust memory and contemporary debates on national identity.
For an early treatment of this topic, see this Journal of Religion and Society article.
I am particularly interested in discussing proposals on:
i. Religious responses to the Holocaust
ii. Ideas of blasphemy and religious offence
Please have a look at the other profile tabs to see more detail concerning my current work. I am happy to discuss research proposals on any related area so do feel free to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
External impact and engagement
I have written on Holocaust memory and contemporary politics for The Guardian, The Times Higher Education, and The Conversation, as well as speaking on Radio Devon and at a range of public and school events in Exeter and Oxford.
Contribution to discipline
I am a member of the editorial board for Holocaust Studies: A Journal of Culture and History and steering committee member for the AAR 'Religion, Holocaust, and Genocide' Unit.
I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and was recently nominated by my students for several Guild teaching awards.