Philip Wexler (1943-2023) was a renowned professor and sociologist who devoted his long career to studying the role of education and spiritual practices in the construction of identity. He was especially concerned to counteract the modern sense of alienation that increasingly erodes self, relationships, and community. He held leading positions at important academic institutions in the United States, Israel, and Australia.
A professor on the faculty of the University of Rochester since 1979, Wexler became dean of the School of Education in 1989, and five years later was appointed to the newly created Michael Warner Scandling Chair, with the school also being renamed the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development. While serving as dean at the University of Rochester, he was also named Distinguished Best Practice Professor at the University of Newcastle, in Australia.
In the early 2000s he was at the height of a successful career. Intellectually, however, he was restless. The modern academy was now so specialized that sociology was at risk of simply repeating old ideas without finding new solutions. Wexler felt compelled to make a mid-career pivot, and start out on a new path. This had much to do with a growing coherence about his own identity as a Jew and a descendent of rabbis, and with his discovery of the socio-mystical teachings of Hasidism. But it was also informed by his deep reading of the founding fathers of sociology, Max Weber and Émile Durkheim, who grounded their study of society in the study of religion.
In 2001, Wexler went on leave from the University of Rochester and took up a fellowship at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Soon afterwards he was appointed Professor of Sociology of Education, and then Unterberg Chair in Jewish Social and Educational History, at Hebrew University. He also directed the School of Education at Hebrew University. During 2008-2009 he convened a year-long international working group at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Jerusalem. In subsequent years he served as a visiting professor at Brandeis University in the United States, and at the Bergische University of Wuppertal in Germany.
Wexler was also the founder and executive director of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality and Society, whose goal is to advance both scholarship and social transformation. The institute’s innovative programs cross disciplinary and communal boundaries, as well as the boundaries between theory and practice, fostering new pathways towards what he called the “reenchantment” of society. The ideas behind this bold project were developed in a number of books and lectures, especially in Mystical Sociology: Toward Cosmic Social Theory (Peter Lang, 2013) and in his final work, Social Vision: The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Transformative Paradigm for the World (Herder and Herder, 2019).
Over the course of several decades Wexler wrote and edited more than fifteen books and dozens of scholarly articles. He also served as a mentor to hundreds of students and colleagues, many of whom went on to forge distinguished scholarly careers of their own.
Wexler was a graduate of New York University and received his PhD from Princeton University. As a young scholar he was also awarded fellowships by the Woodrow Wilson Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health. He was also a Lecturer in Sociology at Queens College, City University of New York, and a Visiting Professor at Griffith University, Australia.
Above all, Philip held his family near and dear to his heart. He was the son of Max (Mordechai) Wexler and Mindy Wexler, raised in Brooklyn, NY, and predeceased by his sister, Helen Wexler. He is survived by four children, Michael, Ari, Helen & Ava, and four grandchildren; Jack, Joely, Jesse, and Noa, as well as beloved wife, Ilene.
A Graveside Service will be held at Mt. Hope Cemetery 1133 Mt. Hope Ave, Wednesday, March 29, 2023 at 10AM.
The family will sit Shiva on WEDNESDAY (March 29th) and THURSDAY (March 30th) from 2:00 – 7:45 PM and on FRIDAY (March 31st) from 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM at 716 East Lake Road in Penn Yan, New York. CLICK HEREfor a map the Shiva House.