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   Joseph L. Blau Papers 1912-1987.

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Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Joseph L. Blau papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

Summary Information


Columbia, A.B., 1931; M.A., 1933; Ph.D., 1944. Professor of religion and philosophy at Columbia University. Member of Fraternity of Leaders of the American Ethical Union; author and scholar in field of American philosophical and religious thought. The collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, course materials, research notes, minutes, clippings, reprints of articles, as well as 25 inscribed or annotated books.

At a Glance

Bib ID:4079527 View CLIO record
Creator(s):Blau, Joseph L. (Joseph Leon), 1909-1986.
Title:Joseph L. Blau Papers 1912-1987.
Physical description:15 linear ft. (ca.12,000 items in 36 boxes).
Language(s):In English
Access: This collection has no restrictions. The following boxes are located off-site: 2-36. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.  More information »



Box 1-2: Cataloged and arranged correspondence; Boxes 3-14: Blau's writings; Boxes 15-17: Course materials; Boxes 18-22: Research materials; Boxes 23-24: Columbia activities; Boxes 25-26: Professional activities; Box 26: Miscellaneous; Boxes 27-29: Publicity; Boxes 30-36: Printed materials.

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Scope and Content

The collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, course materials, research notes, minutes, clippings, reprints of articles, as well as 25 inscribed or annotated books. The cataloged correspondence includes letters from Alfred Kazin, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Alfred Knopf. The collection offers a comprehensive view of Dr. Blau's professional and intellectual interests during his 50 years of association with Columbia University, as well as an indication of his varied professional involvement with the American Council for Learned Societies, American Society for the study of Religion, Association for Jewish Studies, and the Society for Ethical Culture/American Ethical Union.

The papers of Joseph Leon Blau record almost sixty years of his association with the University, spanning the years from 1929 when he was an undergraduate at the College until 1986, the year of his death, nine years after his formal retirement from teaching. The bulk of this material falls into the years after Dr. Blau joined the faculty in 1944. Specifically, the collection documents Dr. Blau's scholarly interests throughout the 1950s and 1960s most extensively.

The collection consists both of Dr. Blau's office files in the religion department and personal files from his home. It includes much that pertains to his tenure as a member of the religion and philosophy departments, as well as material from his years as a student and from his associations with professional societies unaffiliated with Columbia.

The collection includes correspondence, minutes, clippings, research notes, course materials and manuscripts, typescripts, and reprints of articles, essays and books. It is divided into nine series, namely: Cataloged Correspondence; Arranged Correspondence; Writings; Course Materials; Research Materials; Columbia Activities; Professional Activities; Publicity; and Printed Materials (as well as a folder of miscellaneous items). Descriptions of the contents of these series appear below.

The collection offers a wealth of information to researchers in the fields of philosophy and religion. Its greatest strength is the amount and diversity of Blau's writings which it contains. Most of these writings are gathered together in the Writings Series, although Blau's mastery of the written word is also evident in the Correspondence Series--in particular, in his correspondence with former teachers such as Salo Baron and Herbert Schneider and with colleagues. The writings in this collection document Blau's thoughts on subjects both arcane and popular and enable one to track his development from the young man with a taste for poetry to the distinguished scholar of American philosophy and Judaism. Specifically, the manuscripts in various stages of revision reveal Blau thinking through new ideas, making unexpected connections, testing the borders between disciplines and, always and enthusiastically, beginning new projects. Above all the collection reveals that Blau's mind was encyclopedic, that he defined philosophy and religion broadly and then sought to become an expert on both.

What this collection is less able to suggest is the Blau who again and again declared his love for teaching and who lectured on religion and philosophy to Columbia students from 1944 until 1977. Although the collection contains numerous syllabi and exams, few lecture materials, particularly for the classes he taught in his later years, survive. In addition, although the collection reveals that Dr. Blau served on committees which were instrumental in the establishment of the Religion Department at Columbia, it offers little information documenting his role in this effort.

Finally, researchers should note that this collection is primarily a Columbia collection, that is, it mostly reflects Blau's experiences at the University and, consequently, neglects much that Blau-- as a man committed to taking an active role in his community-- didn't neglect.

The 1990 Addition includes correspondence with publishers, colleagues, friends, and family; articles, drafts of book manuscripts, addresses, and talks; Columbia course files, research files, and printed materials; and personal files of Blau and of his father Rabbi Joel Blau, 1912-1987. Among the cataloged correspondence added are 15 letters from Salo Baron and l letter from Albert Einstein to David Rothstein.

Series V: Research Materials, circa 1944-1986, undated

Miscellaneous materials on a wide range of topics. This series consists of many articles and assorted writings by other authors that Blau was using in his research. Also included are many incomplete manuscripts and typescripts of Blau's, as well as some translations. Most materials are undated.

Arranged alphabetically by subject; a folder of miscellaneous materials follows the alphabetical sequence. Subjects which appear in quotation marks on folders are Blau's; untitled folders have been assigned subject headings on the basis of their apparent content. Individual folders contain index cards, scraps of paper, "blue books" and loose sheets arranged in little discernible order.

Series VIII: Miscellaneous Materials, 1912-1987

Miscellaneous materials relating to the life and work of Joseph Blau, and his father, Rabbi Joel Blau.

Series IX: Publicity, 1938-1986

This series consists of the pages from Blau's scrapbooks containing programs and announcements of his writings and appearances, reviews of his writing, published letters in newspapers, and personal letters of thanks and congratulation from colleagues and friends. It also includes a folder of biographical data. The series serves as a good summary of Blau's professional career and noteriety.

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Using the Collection

Partially Offsite

Access Restrictions

This collection has no restrictions.

 The following boxes are located off-site: 2-36. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Restrictions on Use

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Joseph L. Blau papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Finding aid available in repository and online.

Selected Related Material-- Other Repositories

Additional papers held at: Archives of the Ethical Culture Movement. New York Society for Ethical Culture, New York, NY.

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Processed 01/24/90 HR

Papers Processed 12/30/92 BRC & AK

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion June 26, 2009 Finding aid written in English.
    2009-06-26 File created.
    2012-10-09 XML document instance created by Catherine C. Ricciardi

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Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Drafts (literary).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Financial documents and records.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Manuscripts (literary).PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Academies and learned societies.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Americal Council for Learned Societies.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
American Ethical Union.--Fraternity of Leaders.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
American Society for the Study of Religion.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Association for Jewish Studies.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Baron, Salo Wittmayer, 1895-1989.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Blanshard, Paul, 1892-1980.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Boorstin, Daniel J. (Daniel Joseph), 1914-2004.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Buck, Pearl S. (Pearl Sydenstricker), 1892-1973.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
College teachers.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University--Faculty.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Einstein, Albert, 1879-1955.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Ethical culture movement.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Judaism and philosophy.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Kazin, Alfred, 1915-1998.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Knopf, Alfred A., 1892-1984.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Learned institutions and societies.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Niebuhr, Reinhold, 1892-1971.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Philosophy, Jewish.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Reform Judaism.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Rothstein, David, 1942-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Born in Brooklyn, New York on May 6, 1909, Dr. Blau received his elementary and high school education in the public schools of New York and New Jersey before entering Columbia. He was awarded his B.A. in 1931. Upon graduation he began teaching in New York's public schools; two years later he completed a thesis on John Biddle, the founder of English Unitarianism, and received an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia. In 1934 he was awarded a fellowship for work toward the Ph.D in Columbia's Philosophy Department. During the following years, Dr. Blau worked as an assistant to Prof. Herbert W. Schneider before completing and publishing his dissertation, The Christian Interpretation of the Cabala in the Renaissance in 1944.

In 1944 Dr. Blau joined Columbia's philosophy department. In succeeding years, he taught courses in American intellectual history and the philosophy of religion. In 1962 after teaching for nearly twenty years in the Philosophy Department, he became a member of the Department of Religion. He served as chairman of this newly-created department from 1965 to 1968 and as director of graduate studies in religion from 1962 to 1974.. During these years Dr. Blau taught undergraduate and graduate courses and seminars and directed dissertations on a wide variety of subjects. He retired from active teaching in June 1977.

During his years at Columbia Dr. Blau authored and edited several books in philosophy and religion including Social Theories of Jacksonian Democracy (1947); Cornerstones of Religious Freedom in America (1949; revised and enlarged ed., 1965); The Story of Jewish Philosophy (1962); and Modern Varieties of Judaism (1966). He is perhaps best known for his work Men and Movements in American Philosophy (1952) which was translated into six languages and became a standard textbook in universities throughout the world. In addition he wrote hundreds of essays, articles and book reviews for both popular and scholarly journals.

While a member of Columbia's.faculty, Dr. Blau was associated with many professional learned organizations including the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophic Association, the American Ethical Union and the American Jewish Historical Society. In addition he held several research fellowships and grants from both the University and outside institutions.

On December 28, 1986 Dr. Blau died at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

For further biographical information as well as a bibliography of Dr. Blau's writings, one may consult History, Religion, and Spiritual Democracy; Essays in Honor of Joseph L. Blau edited by Maurice Wohlgelernter (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980).

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