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Global Affinities: Portuguese Marranos (Anusim), Traveling Jews, and Cultural Logics of Kinship

  • Author(s): Leite, Naomi
  • Advisor(s): Graburn, Nelson H.H.
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation explores issues of identification, relatedness, and belonging on a global scale, through an ethnographic study of Portugal's urban Marranos (descendants of fifteenth-century forced converts to Catholicism) and foreign Jews who travel from abroad to meet them. Although not Jewish according to Jewish law, given centuries of intermarriage, Marranos are nonetheless widely considered to be part of "the Jewish family," "lost brethren" who should be welcomed back to the Jewish people. Many Jews view them within the metanarrative of Jewish destruction and survival, the "eternal spark" that remains despite the Inquisition's attempted elimination of Judaism from the Portuguese landscape. However, for numerous local reasons the present-day Marranos are not welcomed by Portugal's tiny normative Jewish community. As a result, the urban Marranos, who feel strongly that they are Jews by descent, turn to foreign Jewish travelers as sources of educational, spiritual, and material assistance in their bid to join the Jewish world and attain recognition as Jews in the present.

Based on two years of fieldwork in Marrano organizations in Lisbon and Porto and traveling alongside Jewish tourists and outreach workers, the dissertation undertakes a processual analysis of the constitution of ancestral Jewish identity and of the role of transnational, cross-cultural affective ties in affording a sense of global Jewish belonging. The primary questions driving this work are, first, how and why do far-flung people come to feel that they are related to one another, and what terms do they use to characterize and think through that feeling of relatedness? Second, to what extent are their perceptions of essential connection disrupted or transformed by face-to-face contact? By interrogating the cultural logics of kinship writ large--the language and conceptual frameworks people use to articulate and make sense of their feelings of relatedness to one another--and then examining how those logics play out "on the ground," this study provides a fine-grained ethnographic analysis of the mechanisms through which global and ancestral imaginings become concretized in social interaction. Ultimately, I argue, physical proximity remains the productive sphere for identification and belonging, even as global interconnection provides new opportunities for encounter.

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