Emmanuel Harrison Chapman, an Orthodox Jew from Chicago, was immersed in Chicago’s “Yiddish left” during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1927, he left his studies in philosophy at the University of Chicago and traveled to Paris, where he intended to become a novelist. Instead, Chapman took up a post as an art critic for The Chicago Evening Post. It was through art criticism that he engaged his own sense of “Jewishness” and entertained the question about the existence of “Jewish art.” During this same period, he met the renowned French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain and took up with his circle in Meudon. Between 1928 and 1930, Chapman became a private student of Maritain. Maritain’s project of integrating aesthetics with the neo-Thomist position began to fascinate Chapman. At the same time, Chapman was becoming equally captivated by Maritain’s efforts to radically re-work the Catholic position on antiSemitism. For both men, anti-Semitism would become a defining force in their intellectual and activist lives. Soon Chapman began to search for ways to resolve his interior attraction to Catholic aesthetics and his growing appreciation for Maritain’s work to reverse Catholic anti-Semitism. In late 1930, Chapman converted to Catholicism. This article argues that interwar France provided a unique context for the unlikely forces of aesthetics and anti-Semitism to combine and prompt a religious conversion to Catholicism. Chapman’s conversion of an American Jew contributed to his later work in North America fighting Catholic anti-Semitism, one of the first Atlantic links to Maritain’s philosophy of social activism.


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pp. 67-90
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