In her recently published book, Nos Apocalypses, a finalist for the 2022 Prix Medicis, Clemence Boulouque unveils an overview of religious responses to epidemics, from Exodus to the coronavirus, and of literary description of diseases, from Boccacio and Goethe, to Camus and Octavia Butler. Both scriptures and literary texts function as vehicles of social criticism. They allow us to engage with questions of collective guilt, collective mourning, divine justice (or lack thereof), and grapple with the societal disruptions, persecution and discriminations that illnesses create or expose. While some of the parallels with our current times are obvious, these texts also help us nuance the responses to past epidemics, and read them anew. Nos Apocalypses is also an invitation to read scriptures as literature and to ponder the uses of religious imagination in order to come up with new ways of imagining what brings us together when disaster befalls us.
Clémence Boulouque is the Carl and Bernice Witten Associate Professor in Jewish and Israel studies at Columbia University. She is the author of Another Modernity: Elia Benamozegh’s Jewish Universalism (Stanford University Press) and co-editor of the Stanford Studies in Jewish Mysticism series. Her interests include Jewish thought and mysticism, interreligious encounters, intellectual history and networks with a focus on the modern Mediterranean and Sefardi worlds, as well as the intersection between religion and the arts, and the study of the unconscious. Prior to embarking on an academic career, Clémence Boulouque worked as a novelist and literary and movie critic in Paris.