Graduate Theological Union

Getting to the Bottom of Politics and Religion

barbed wire

Joel Schalit

“I felt the politics of religion
(in Israel) were out of our
control. I wanted to get to the
bottom of it.”

Israel vs. Utopia

Who is Joel Schalit (M.A., ’94)? Inquire, and you’ll get many answers. He’s an Israeli-American author, publisher, and freelance editorial consultant known for his unique views on Middle Eastern politics and U.S. culture. Based in Berlin, Germany, he has contributed to numerous news outlets, including Alternet, The Forward, France 24, and The Guardian, and he is former managing editor of Tikkun. He’s authored five books, among them a critically-acclaimed 2002 collection of essays, Jerusalem Calling, and his newest book, Israel vs. Utopia, published last year. Schalit is a sound artist: He helped supervise one of America’s most influential electronic music imprints — San Francisco’s Asphodel LTD, and was a member of the political performance group Christal Methodists and the post-rock duo Elders of Zion.

Schalit is also vintage GTU. “I was interested in critical social theory and religion,” he says, “and the education I received at the GTU was profound. I was young, and the GTU propelled me into taking intellectual matters seriously and questioning reigning orthodoxies. My work there helped me mature.”

Schalit grew up in what he calls a “serious Zionist family” — in fact, his family arrived in Israel from Russia in 1882 during the First Aliyah — the first large wave of immigrants fleeing violence against the Jews. His great-grandfather, who was an agronomist, had been given a job in Palestine by the Rothschild family at an agricultural station in what later became Rishon Lezion (or First to Zion) — the fourth largest city in Israel and the first Zionist settlement there. Of his childhood in Israel, Schalit says, “I felt the politics of religion were out of our control. I wanted to get to the bottom of it.”

In a review of his book Israel vs. Utopia, Jerusalem Post writer Mya Guarnieri says, “An incisive look at the connection between the U.S. and Israel, and their respective roles on the world stage, (the book) is so full of such unconventional, thought-provoking statements … Schalit offers an exciting conversation about politics …”

“I’m concerned about Islamophobia in Europe…”

Now, Schalit says, he is getting to the bottom of politics and religion in another way. He has just moved into a Turkish/Arab part of Berlin and is starting work on a book about Jews and Muslims in Europe. “I’m concerned about Islamophobia in Europe, and I worry that attempts to exclude Muslims from Europe will only exacerbate the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he says. “The dynamics I see are the same as were enacted upon the Jews in Diaspora Europe.”

You can follow Schalit’s work on his website: