FAMOUS for singing that "All the redemption I can offer is
beneath this dirty hood", the rock star Bruce Springsteen
(right) is the subject of a new theology course at one of
the oldest universities in the United States.
"Bruce Springsteen's Theology", offered by Rutgers University in
New Brunswick, is a new part of the school's Jewish studies
programme. It will "focus on Springsteen's reinterpretation of
biblical motifs, the possibility of redemption by earthly means
(women, cars, music), and his interweaving of secular and sacred
elements", the course literature states.
Professor Azzan Yadin-Israel, who usually teaches courses on
early rabbinic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Plato, has
been turning his attention to the religious language in the back
catalogue of the man known as "the Boss".
Professor Yadin-Israel has been an admirer of Springsteen's work
since his schooldays. He was inspired to create the course after
researching an article on the theological approaches of Israeli
bands. Listening to Springsteen, he found recurring themes of
redemption and a yearning for the Promised Land.
"Jesus was an only Son", for example, is a song that Professor
Yadin-Israel cites as explicitly exploring biblical themes with a
contemporary interpretation. He told The Huffington Post
that the song was about the Passion narrative, specifically
Christ's sacrifice. "Springsteen refocuses the song in an
interesting way, shifting the focus away from Jesus as the son of
God, and looking at Jesus as the son of Mary," he said. "She isn't
part of the redemptive narrative - she's a grieving mother."
Springsteen grew up in an RC household, but Professor
Yadin-Israel argues for his inclusion in Jewish studies because of
the prevalence of Old Testament motifs in the music. "Springsteen
refers more often to the stories of the Old Testament than the New
"On a literary level, [he] often recasts biblical figures and
stories into the American landscape. The narrator of 'Adam raised a
Cain' describes his strained relationship with his father through
the prism of the biblical story of the first father and son;
apocalyptic storms accompany a boy's tortured transition into
manhood in 'The Promised Land'; and the first responders of 9/11
rise up to 'some place higher' in the flames, much as Elijah the
prophet ascended in a chariot of fire ('Into the Fire')."
Fans hoping to take the course may be disappointed: the 20
places have already been taken. But because of the attention the
seminars have received, Professor Yadin-Israel says that he will
probably write a book setting out his observations.