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Meet Max Farasat, Co-Winner of the 'Best Thesis in Jewish Studies' Award

In December 2023, Mr. Max Farasat (B.A. Religious Studies) was announced as Co-Winner of the "Best Thesis in Jewish Studies" Award. He sat down to answer some questions about his prize-winning B.A. Thesis which was entitled: “Constructing Judaism: Reading Jewish Belonging in Religious Architecture”.

What did you write your thesis on and why did you become interested in that topic?

My thesis explored contemporary Judaism in the Netherlands from a spatial perspective; I looked at what types of interactions nowadays take place within Dutch prewar synagogue buildings. These buildings, which witnessed a process of destruction, neglect, and desecration during the Holocaust and its aftermath, sometimes underwent a renovation through grassroots initiatives. In my thesis, I argued that the new interactions between people and prewar synagogues that emerged from these initiatives broaden our conceptualization of Jewish belonging. 

My interest in this topic started during a smaller project that I did in the second year of my bachelor’s in Religious Studies. During this project, I conducted fieldwork at a Jewish community in Delft and wrote about their relation with the prewar synagogue of Delft. The results of this fieldwork fascinated me and made me want to research this topic more broadly.

What was the most important lesson you take away from the experience of writing this thesis?

I think the experience of writing a thesis taught me to trust the process, even though you often find yourself at a point that you are not sure where the project is heading towards. Just moving forward eventually helped me to connect the dots and finish the project. I was very happy to be able to study and write together with friends in order to stay motivated and push through challenging moments.

What was your reaction when you found out that your thesis had won this prize?

At first, I could not actually believe that I won the prize. I am still very grateful for the support I got from my supervisor Prof. Sarah Cramsey and I am proud of what I achieved in the past months.

Why is it important for Jewish Studies to have a collective presence at Leiden?

I think a collective presence of people working on the study of Jews and Judaism is important, as it opens up possibilities for people to collaborate and learn from each other. There is a lot of interesting research going on about Judaism within different disciplines, but until now this has not been very visible. Deep knowledge on Judaism and its history is essential for understanding society today and I think the Leiden Jewish Studies Association could help facilitate this.

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