The other day I found myself with an awkward amount of free time between serious commitments — the kind of pocket of time that is too long to really justify playing with Facebook but too short to get engaged in any project that required concentration.  So I decided to whittle away the time on Google’s Ngram viewer, which by now you might have noticed is an endless source of amusement to me.

I have nothing very profound to say about the experiment above.  I searched the terms “Reform Judaism,” “Orthodox Judaism,” “Conservative Judaism,” and “Hasidism” in the entire English language corpus of Google Books from the end of the nineteenth century to 2008.  This should give us some measure of the general interest that the reading population has in these movements (at least under these names).  Three things immediately grabbed my attention:

  • Starting in the 1950s, interest in Hasidism far outstrips interest in the other movements.  Is this due to exoticism?
  • Over the past decade or so there has been a decline of interest in all forms of Judaism (correlated to the decline in enrollments in Jewish Studies in colleges throughout the country?).
  • The crossing of the “Orthodox Judaism” and “Conservative Judaism” lines.  Although both are pretty low, perhaps this corroborates the narrative of the decline of the latter.

Just some thoughts to play with during your own awkward pocket of time today.