Who am I? For your delectation and amusement, I present a number ways of finding out (in addition to the bullet points on the home page!). Click on the one that suits you or just scroll down the page:
- The Short Version: Me in one paragraph – in the third person. Suitable for publications and organisations to adapt for a bio.
- The Longer Version: Me in several paragraphs – in the first person.
- The List: Me as a list of what I have done and where and when I have done it.
- If you aren’t interested in my biography (and who could blame you for that?) but are simply interested to find out in what I am interested in, then jump to the Themes page.
Oh, and if it’s relevant to you, I am represented by Antony Topping at Green and Heaton.
The Short Version
Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is a sociologist and writer, based in London. He is a senior lecturer at Leo Baeck College, an associate lecturer and honorary fellow at Birkbeck College, and he is the project director of the European Jewish Research Archive at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. He has a broad range of interests, including particular expertise in researching metal music scenes and the UK Jewish community. The author or co-author of eight books, editor of several collections and many articles and reviews, his career bridges academia and multiple other worlds. His work has appeared in publications including The Guardian, New Humanist, Prospect, Haaretz, The Forward, New Statesman and more. His most recent books are The Babel Message: A Love Letter to Language (Icon) and What Does A Jew Look Like? (in collaboration with Rob Stothard).
The Longer Version
Writing a biographical note is often, for me, an agonising process. I don’t mean that it causes an existential crisis, it’s just that my professional trajectory has been unconventional in places and difficult to summarise.
The easy bit is that I was born in London in the early 1970s and spent most of my childhood and youth in Elstree, just north of London. I come from a progressive Jewish family and we were heavily involved in our synagogue, Radlett and Bushey Reform. I attended a school which was stuffed with other Jewish boys, some of whom, like Matt Lucas and Sacha Baron-Cohen, have subsequently become famous.
Music was a major part of my teenage years. I wrote an alternative music fanzine with a couple of school friends and got to interview Nirvana when they were just on the cusp of exploding. I also started to get into death metal, grindcore and other forms of extreme metal – which, in some ways, changed my life.
I attended Robinson College, Cambridge, as an undergraduate, studying Social and Political Sciences. As a student, I continued my habit of knowing comedians before they were famous by performing in a college review with Rob Webb. By the end of my time at Cambridge, I had developed a passion for sociology and for the nascent sub-discipline of popular music studies.
Most of my twenties were spent at Goldsmiths College, where I studied for an MA and then a PhD. My dissertation was based on an ethnography of extreme metal music scenes in Israel, Sweden and the UK. As part of my research I wrote for the metal magazine Terrorizer and interviewed some of my underground metal heroes.
I was awarded my PhD in 2001. That’s when my story gets complicated. I knew by then that I didn’t want a conventional academic career. While I love academia, I can’t reconcile myself with certain aspects of it – particularly the injunction to publish endless articles in journals few people read. On top of that, I had had ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since my second year as an undergraduate – in fact, I still have it – and this meant that I needed flexibility in my work life.
I started getting more professionally involved in the UK Jewish community even before I finished my PhD. Much of my post-PhD has been spent in conducting research on the community, and working for Jewish organisations. At the same time, I kept up my interest in metal. My first book, Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge, published in 2007, was a pioneering work and helped to kickstart the new field of ‘metal studies’. I continue to publish in this area.
For many adults, having children ushers in a period of ‘knuckling down’. It’s been the opposite for me. Since my second child was born in 2006, I have continued to widen my horizons and, whilst I keep a foothold in academia, I have sought to re-position myself as a writer, rather than an academic. Over the years I have developed a freelance writing career, producing op-eds, reviews and features for publications such as The Guardian, New Statesman, Prospect, TLS and many more. From 2014-2015 I edited the literary magazine the Jewish Quarterly. I have also stretched my wings as a speaker, appearing at events including TEDx Krakow, The Boring Conference, One Track Minds, Books Showoff and more.
I am not a polymath; I am poly-interested. It might look I have no attention span but when I get interested in something new I don’t simply drop my old interests. So, here is a summary of things that fascinate me and I have written about either occasionally or for years:
- Metal music and culture, particularly its more extreme manifestations
- Jews, Jewish culture, Jewish politics, Jewish community, etc
- Denial, denialism and stupidity
- Racism, antisemitism and anti-racism
- Dialogue and conflict resolution
- Small worlds and small communities (particularly the Luxembourg water-skiing scene).
- The British overseas territories and crown dependencies (Gibraltar and Alderney in particular)
- Military ration collectors
- Soft drinks
The Full List
2001: PhD in Sociology – Goldsmiths College, London
Thesis: ‘Transgression and Mundanity: The Global Extreme Metal Music Scene‘
1996: MA in Sociology with Qualitative Research – Goldsmiths College, London
1994: BA in Social and Political Sciences – Robinson College, Cambridge University
2013 – Present: Senior Lecturer Leo Baeck College, London
- I serve as Course Team Leader for MA in Rabbinics programme. I also teach the course ‘Understanding Jewish Communities’ and teach dissertation preparation seminars.
2013 – Present: Project Director, European Jewish Research Archive, Institute for Jewish Policy Research
- The European Jewish Research Archive is a publicly available online archive for research publications on contemporary European communities. As Project Director, my role is to populate the archive, liaise with specialists in other European countries, conduct literature searches, provide abstracts where necessary and commission and write introductory and contextual material.
2010 – Present: Associate Lecturer in the Department of Psycho-Social Studies, and Honorary Research Fellow in the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck College, University of London
2015 – Present: Visiting Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Jewish Culture, Society and Politics, Durham University
1999 – Present: Editor on various projects, including:
- Present: Series co-editor (with Rosemary Hill), Advances in Metal Music and Culture, Intellect Books (A continuation of the series Emerald Studies in Metal Music and Culture, Emerald Books)
- January 2014 to February 2015: Guest Editor of the Jewish Quarterly literary magazine.
- 2013-2015: Editor of the Jewish Journal of Sociology.
- For edited journal special issues see also Writings category ‘Edited issues and publications’ and scroll down the Books page to see edited books.
2008 – Present: Freelance Writer for various publications
- See the Writings page for my contributions to many publications including The Guardian, New Humanist, Open Democracy, New Statesman, Jewish Chronicle, The Forward, Haaretz, and The Tablet.
2002 – Present: Research Consultant
- Clients have included Limmud, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Forum for the Discussion of Israel-Palestine, Alif-Aleph UK, Rothschild Foundation Europe, René Cassin and UJIA.
- For published research reports see the Writings category ‘Reports and policy papers’
2011 – Present: Public speaking and presenting
- 2021: Co-presented the Repeater Radio show/podcast Disenchanted with Rosemary Hill.
- See the Talks page for examples of talks and presentations I have made at various events
1996 – 2014: Teaching roles
- 2013-2014: Senior Teaching Fellow Dept of the Study of Religions, School of Oriental and African Studies
- 2004-2012: Associate Lecturer for Open University on MA and BA courses for Postgraduate Research Methods and Social Sciences.
- 2011: Visiting lecturer at Popakademie Baden-Württemberg and Bergische Universität (Wuppertal).
- 2003: Visiting lecturer in the Department of Cultural History, Turku University, Finland.
- 1996-2000: Tutor in Departments of Sociology and Media and Communications, Goldsmiths College.
1994 – 2012: Other roles
- 2011-2012: Academic Director of conference and ancillary activities for ‘The Place of European Jewry in the Global Jewish Community’ at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies (.
- Visiting Fellowships at Linköping University, Sweden (2005), Monash University, Australia (2002), and at the Mandel School, Jerusalem (2001-2002).
- 2008-2010: Research Associate, Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths College.
- 1995-1999: Research Assistant, Jewish Continuity/UJIA
- 1994-1995: Research Assistant, National Centre for Social Research.
Selected other activities
- 2004 – Present: Co-supervisor of PhD students at 2 universities, external examiner of PhD theses at 6 different universities/
- 2011-2017: Trustee of René Cassin, a Jewish human rights charity
- 2009-2011: Organiser and host of series of confidential dinners for Jewish communal leaders to discuss divisions of Israel
- 2007-2009: Convenor of intra-Jewish dialogue group to discuss divisions over Israel
- 2008-2010: Board member of the National ME Observatory
- 2004-2010: Convenor of New Jewish Thought project
- 1999-2001: Treasurer and Membership Secretary of International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM)
- 2015 – Present: Fellow of the RSA
- 2011 – Present: Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
- Advanced Modern Hebrew, good spoken and reading in French and Spanish, basic Finnish.