Edith Stein’s Life in a Jewish Family, 1891–1916 is a treasure trove for the study of Stein’s youth and early adulthood, her approach to writing autobiographically, and her intricate relationship with historical influences of her time and place. Through intellectual mining Stein’s narrative and conducting a comprehensive historical analysis of Stein’s achievement as a distinct type of autobiography, Joyce Avrech Berkman argues that a key axis of Stein’s consciousness, values, philosophical ideas, and life choices is a deep, tense, unresolved, philosophical, and spiritual struggle to both uphold traditional societal and cultural values and practices and also critiquing them to pioneer new patterns of thought. Berkman further probes the sharply controversial nature of Stein’s autobiography for her family members and Stein scholars in the decades after her death. Edith Stein’s Life in a Jewish Family, 1891–1916: A Companion serves as an important guide to scholars in autobiographical studies, history, philosophy, and theology, as well as to a broader readership interested in Stein’s life for religious and cultural reasons.
Joyce Avrech Berkman is professor emerita of history at the University of Massachusetts.
Introduction. The Existence of Life
Chapter 1. The Nature of Life: An Exegesis of Life in a Jewish Family, 1891-1916: An Autobiography
Chapter 2. Grasping the Meaning of Life
Chapter 3. The Afterlife of Life
The studies philosopher Joyce Avrech Berkman has long conducted on Edith Stein have not only left a significant mark on the scholarly community but are also a guarantee of attention to the sources. All of Berkman’s interpretations of Stein are solidly grounded because they are based on Stein’s own writings. This new book is yet further testimony to the author’s deep knowledge of Stein’s works. Readers will find the book very useful because, in her “exegesis,” Berkman helps us understand how scholarly research on Edith Stein is closely connected to her life events. Indeed, the study of Stein’s phenomenological activity and that of her personal vicissitudes are so intimately intertwined that one sheds light on the other. Professor Berkman is able to deal skillfully with these two aspects because of her masterful command of both, and she draws on her many years of experience and careful study of Edith Stein’s works. This book will help readers approach Stein by offering new and illuminating insights. At the same time, it opens up a new pathway for thought while providing scholars a unique and compelling opportunity to revisit Stein and her philosophical contribution.
The worldwide attention to Edith Stein is based on her outstanding intellect and her death in Auschwitz, which deepened and revealed her holiness. But it speaks to her character that her inner life is mostly hidden within her philosophical works. Only in the letters and in her autobiography does she allow a view into her crisis as a youth, her loves and scientific passions, and her conversion to a ripe Judeo-Christian faith. She gives testimonies of a gifted and endangered generation, of the rich life of a Jewish family before the Holocaust, and of the religious and philosophical battles of the time. This book is a document of rare intensity in searching the truth.