Hope and Grief in the Age of Climate Change: Queer Disability Politics and Ancient Jewish Story

Julia Watts Belser
Dr. Julia Watts Belser

By Dr. Julia Watts Belser
2023 Sondra and Howard Bender Visiting Scholar Lecture

Wednesday, March 22
5:00pm – 6:30pm (MT)
Free and open to the public
Register for the Zoom Webinar today!

Can Jewish text and tradition offer resources for navigating the emotional terrain of climate change? In her presentation, Prof. Watts Belser will examine ancient and contemporary stories about Jonah, the biblical prophet who famously turned away from God’s call.  Alternating between flight and fatalism, Jonah eventually fixates on a prophesy of doom—one that shares striking similarities to contemporary American responses to climate crisis. We’ll probe classical Jewish texts about the cruel city, examining how the rabbinic stories can illuminate both the realities of pervasive structural violence and the possibility of resistance. But while biblical stories about widespread social crisis often end in cataclysm, Prof. Watts Belser’s talk will argue against cultural tropes of widespread destruction and inevitable doom. Instead, we’ll lift up the embodied ethics of contemporary queer disability communities on the frontlines of climate disruption, showing how disability practices of collective care offer persistent possibilities for the practice of fierce and tender hope.

Julia Watts Belser (she/her) is Professor of Jewish Studies in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, as well as core faculty in Georgetown’s Disability Studies Program and a Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Her research centers on gender, sexuality, and disability in rabbinic literature, as well as queer feminist Jewish ethics. She directs an initiative on Disability and Climate Change, which brings together disability activists, artists, policy makers, and academics to address how disability communities are disproportionately affected by environmental risk and climate disruption.

Her work brings ancient texts into conversation with disability studies, queer theory, feminist thought, and environmental ethics. She is the author of “Rabbinic Tales of Destruction: Gender, Sex, and Disability in the Ruins of Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2018) and “Power, Ethics, and Ecology: Rabbinic Responses to Drought and Disaster (Cambridge University Press, 2015). She has held faculty fellowships at Harvard Divinity School and the Katz Center for Advanced Jewish Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

A rabbi and a longtime advocate for disability and gender justice, Belser writes queer feminist Jewish theology and brings disability arts and culture into conversation with Jewish tradition. She co-authored an international “Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities (Hesperian Foundation, 2007), developed in collaboration with disability activists from 42 countries and translated into 14 languages, designed to help challenge the root causes of poverty, gender violence, and disability discrimination. She’s an avid wheelchair hiker, a lover of wild places, and a passionate supporter of disability dance.

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