On the Counterculture

In my reading of Lynn Davidman’s Tradition in a Rootless World: Women Turn to Orthodox Judaism, one question kept occuring to me. Could the wave of religious extremism that seems to be becoming more prominent be considered the modern counterculture? There seems to be an increasing number of membership, or at least more media attention, for sectarian-edging religions. Davidman mentions that her book, “tells the story of two groups of secular Jewish women who were troubled by some of the characteristic dilemmas of modern life, such as feelings of isolation, rootlessness, and confusion about gender. These women sought solutions in an unusual way through participation in Orthodox  Jewish resocialization programs.” The thought process of these women seems very similar to John Milton Yinger’s definition of a contraculture, which he defines to be at, “conflict with the values of the total society.” The women in Davidman’s book are confused by and at odds with the liberal society that surrounds them. They sought for a, perhaps odd, method of coping with this discrepancy. 

To me, this appears to bare semblance to a countercultural movement. The massive amounts of attention being paid to religious movements in the media is undeniable and definitely at odds with mainstream liberal society. However, this ultra-conservative push back hardly resembles the countercultural movements of the past. Historically, countercultural movements have been very emotional liberal and progressive such as Romanticism of the early 1800’s, the Beat Generation of the 50’s and 60’s, and the Hippie movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Is it possible for there to be a conservative counterculture, because, if so, if would be the first of its kind and point towards the ushering in of a new era of thinking. This new era would be marked by a liberal mainstream and a heavy conservative push back that mimics the liberal ones of the past.

2 thoughts on “On the Counterculture

  1. I found it interesting that you say “They sought for a, perhaps odd, method of coping with this discrepancy.” when talking about the women who turned to orthodoxy. I felt the opposite, it seems not “odd” and instead the obvious choice because as they mention in the book, this type of Judaism was what their ancestors did. They had an intrinsic tie to it. In the novel, the “odd” choices where when some of the women who were seeking an answer to their spiritual need, turned to religions that “weren’t their own” like the handful of women who tried out Christianity. While it might be a decision that we aren’t used to seeing, especially by educated women, I think they would say that it isn’t odd, it’s the most reasonable choice for who they are and their background.

    Also I liked your point that past counterculture movements have been “very emotional liberal and progressive”. Although, I would use that same example to say the opposite. Because of those movements we are in an era that values women’s autonomy and their right to not be subjected to lesser treatment in work, worship, etc. than their male counterparts. For that reason, wouldn’t women choosing to forgo those measures of equality as counter to our current culture? At least in a literal sense.

    1. How fascinating! Thank you for bringing up such valid points! The quote about the “odd”-ness of turning to Orthodoxy is not something I personally believe, but something Davidman herself suggested. Personally, I myself took a similar path as these women, and reading their accounts was absolutely fascinating to me. I definitely agree that their decision to return to Orthodoxy is almost natural. I feel that as humans, we search for things that connect us to our past and perhaps help us to understand who we are. That exactly what these women are doing! Thank you so much for your insight!

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