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Interdisciplinary programs expand with new Jewish Studies major, faculty

Apr. 16, 2003, 12:38 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Vanderbilt’s unique strengths in religion, culture, history and politics provide a broad base for the launch of a new undergraduate major in Jewish Studies in the College of Arts and Science. Dean Richard McCarty announced the addition of this new major in time for students to pre-register for fall semester classes.

"All cultures include aspects of religious expression, and faith communities often reflect the cultures in which they develop," said McCarty. "This expanded commitment to Jewish Studies advances Vanderbilt’s mission to equip our students with the tools they will need to appreciate the rich interrelationships between the religions, cultures and societies in which we live today."

Jack Sasson, Mary Jane Werthan Professor of Judaic Studies and Hebrew Bible at Vanderbilt Divinity School and professor of classics at the College of Arts and Science, serves as director of the program.

"It is not enough for people to know what they have in common; increasingly we must also know what makes us different, culturally and religiously," said Sasson. "In this way, we sharpen our capacity to empathize with our neighbors and we learn to celebrate the rich spiritual resources that are available to us."

This interdisciplinary major is designed to allow students the flexibility to tailor the curriculum to their academic and career interests. Course offerings in Hebrew and biblical studies will be complimented with offerings by faculty from Vanderbilt’s Law, Divinity, education and music schools.

Available courses cover cultural and social issues like the comparative study of key figures in Islamic, Jewish and Christian philosophy; analysis of the political, economic and social issues facing post-Cold War Europe; hate groups in America; the relationship between science and faith; and the changing relationships among music, literature, the arts, and philosophy.

"The major in Jewish Studies provides an excellent academic foundation for a variety of career paths including professions like law, medicine, business, government, education, community and foreign service, ministry and rabbinate," said Sasson. "By sharpening analytic, linguistic and methodological tools, it also offers excellent preparation for graduate studies including international relations, history, literature, languages, classics, social work, social sciences, religious studies and education."

Faculty serving on the program’s initial oversight committee include Ellen Goldring (Peabody), Lenn Goodman (Philosophy), Nathalie Debrauwere-Miller (French), Jay Geller (Religious Studies), Dan Cornfield (Sociology), William Smith (Psychology), and Frank Bloch (Law).

In addition to bringing together existing faculty and resources from across disciplines, three new faculty positions will be filled in the coming months to round out the core program. Martina Urban of the Hebrew University and of Berlin’s Institute for Jewish Studies has been hired for one of these positions. She will serve as assistant professor of religious studies and Jewish studies teaching courses that deal with the religious experience of Judaism.

Sasson hopes to further complement the program by developing a partnership with Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, to give majors a pre-professional experience in serving as community leaders or as teachers in sectarian schools.

Service learning opportunities will also give students a chance to test the practical application of the skills they learn through internships with community centers, synagogues and churches.
Like the expansion of Jewish Studies, innovative programs that are relevant to current social concerns are a key part of Vanderbilt’s academic mission. Other majors programs which help students examine complex interdisciplinary issues include African-American Studies, European Studies, Latin American Studies, Russian Studies and Women’s Studies.

Media contact:David Glasgow, 615-322-NEWS