Sept. 22, 2005 • Volume 14 Number 2

Jewish Studies Program co-directors Dwayne Carpenter, left, and Maxim D. Shrayer. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

University Introduces Jewish Studies Program

Boston College will inaugurate an interdisciplinary Jewish Studies Program this semester, among the first of its kind at an American Catholic university.

The program, which began as grass-roots effort by both Jewish and non-Jewish faculty and students, will offer BC undergraduates an opportunity to examine the multiple dimensions and complexities of Jewish civilization throughout its broad chronological and geographical range. Co-directing the program are Prof. Maxim D. Shrayer, chairman of the Slavic and Eastern Languages Department, and Prof. Dwayne Carpenter (Romance Languages and Literatures).

Boston College will formally mark the establishment of the Jewish Studies Program with a special event on Oct. 2, "Jewish Civilization and Its Place in the World." [see related story]

The establishment of Jewish Studies also contributes to Boston College's longstanding efforts to internationalize and enrich its curriculum by fostering reflection on an ethnically and religiously diverse campus. As Shrayer notes: "The millennia of Jewish Diaspora provide students of the liberal arts with viable-and teachable-models of cultural endurance. Some 20 years ago, as a Jewish university student in what was then the Soviet Union, I could not even dream of being able to study Jewish civilization freely and openly.

"This is why I find being a part of this initiative at Boston College so personally moving and exhilarating."

Students can minor in Jewish Studies by completing six courses in at least three different academic departments at BC. The newly minted program is among the most interdisciplinary of the minors on campus, with more than a dozen faculty members from nine departments involved. Students will be required to take a team-taught, foundation course titled Mapping the Jewish Experience, which will highlight the extraordinary ethnic and cultural diversity of Jewish traditions.

As part of their curriculum, students are encouraged to take as many courses as possible in biblical and modern Hebrew. They may also avail themselves of BC's international studies program at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The program also has launched a Web site, at

The launch of the Jewish Studies Program comes at a special time in Jewish-Christian relations, as evidenced by Pope Benedict XVI's recent visit to a synagogue in Cologne and his affirmation of the ties uniting Christians and Jews. Said Monan Professor of Theology Lisa Sowle Cahill, "Boston College is inaugurating the Jewish Studies initiative during the anniversary year of the Second Vatican Council, which recognized God's lasting covenant with the Jewish people. In a millennium in which global understanding and cooperation are ever more important, the riches of the world's faith traditions are essential to university education.

"I am proud to be part of a Catholic university that includes scholars who can integrate the diverse Jewish heritage into our intellectual life."

Added Assoc. Prof. Rabbi Ruth Langer (Theology), who is associate director of BC's Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, "It is particularly fitting that Boston College inaugurate its Jewish Studies Program as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aetate, on the Relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions. The process of reconciliation between Catholics and Jews formally set into motion by this declaration continues today, and grows most productively when grounded in dedicated study of each other's traditions."

Consonant with post-Vatican II teachings of the Catholic Church, Boston College's diverse community of scholars and students fosters opportunities for sincere academic dialogue between members of different cultural and religious traditions. A primary objective of the Jewish Studies Program is to create a forum for such conversation. As Carpenter noted, "The debut of a Jewish Studies Program within a Jesuit context provides both faiths with an exceptional opportunity to learn from each other in an academically serious and mutually respectful environment."

These sentiments are echoed by Prof. James M. Bernauer, SJ, (Philosophy): "I look forward to the growth in the understanding of the Jewish experience that this new program will facilitate. If I have learned anything from my investigation of the Holocaust, it is an awareness of how violent deeds spring not only from obvious hatred but also from the shadows of ignorance.

"That we will have a strong Jewish Studies Program at Boston College is testimony to the deepening understanding between Christians and Jews, as well as to the University's eagerness to be a leader in interfaith relations."

-Public Affairs staff

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