Judaic studies introduced as vibrant, stimulating
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 23:02
Professors from the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life introduced what they described as “a very vibrant and stimulating field of study” to students in the UConn Honors Program last night.
“Judaic Studies is not just for Jewish students,” Professor Jeffrey Shoulson said to a group of about a dozen students gathered in an Oak Hall classroom. “It asks interesting questions about identity, about ethnicity, about not just religious questions but political and social questions.”
The event, put on by the Honors Program, is the first in the “Take a Look” series that gives students an opportunity to see how taking courses in unique fields can supplement the education they are receiving at UConn.
Three professors associated with the center participated in the presentation and Q-and-A session with students. Leading the presentation was Professor Stuart Miller, who is in his 30th year of teaching at UConn. Shoulson and Professor Susan Einbinder joined Miller for the presentation, which also served as a makeshift introduction for these two professors who are both in their first year at the university.
“The Judaic Studies program has been totally reconstituted,” Miller said. “Whereas, over the last 30 years, I’ve been the only full-time person teaching Judaic Studies and I’m now very happy and very pleased to say there are three of us.”
The retooling of the Judaic Studies program is expected to bring about new course offerings for students, some being in very unique areas. As Miller conceded, his “heart is in Antiquity,” which has set a limitation on which courses have been taught, with Judaism in the medieval period taking the largest hit.
However, Miller described how bringing in Einbinder, who is an expert in the medieval period, and Shoulson, who is an expert in the Early Modern period, will ultimately result in a more well-rounded department.
Many course ideas were pitched during the presentation. Einbinder expressed a desire to begin teaching a course on Jewish magic in the medieval period, while Shoulson expounded on an idea for course discussing the influence of medieval and Early Modern Jewish writings on the development of Enlightenment thought. In addition, Miller expressed hopes of putting together a class focusing specifically on the Dead Sea Sect.
Several of the students in attendance spoke highly of the quality of the courses available in the Judaic Studies program.
Tom Bassine, a 2nd-semester ACES major, addressed the whole group about his experience last semester in Miller’s Jewish literature and civilization survey course. He described the class as being “very interesting,” as he was able to see from his self-described “secular background” a story of a people unfolding over time.
“I learned a lot that I was able to impress my Jewish friends with,” Bassine said. “Professor Miller is a really good teacher, very engaging ... and very insightful.”
Katherine Domrese, a 4th-semester electrical engineering major, also had high praise for the program. Domrese stated that she “absolutely loved” the survey course and plans on taking more Judaic Studies courses in the future, either with Miller or one of the two new professors.
One prominent professor in the Judaic Studies program was not able to attend the presentation. Nehama Aschkenasy, who Miller described as being “an integral part” of the program, teaches at the Stamford campus, and sometimes teaches remote courses on the Storrs campus. Miller stressed that her participation over the years has been very important to getting the program to where it is today.
The full list of course offerings in Judaic Studies for the 2013-14 academic year will be made public in the next few weeks, according to Miller. However, the most significant changes to the list of available courses will be unveiled starting in the spring semester of 2014.
When the presentation concluded, there was a clear sense that interest on the part of the students is growing. Over the course of the next year, Judaic Studies might finally leave the confines of being an individualized major, Miller indicated, and receive full recognition by the university.
“I think we can do a whole lot more,” Miller said. “This is testimony to that.”