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‘Golden Age’ for Christian-Jewish Relations

Center for Christian-Jewish Learning promotes interreligious dialogue, research

04/28/11
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“This is a veteran group of scholars engaged in understanding and encouraging Christian-Jewish dialogue. They have come out of the post-Holocaust and post-Vatican II eras. One of the real challenges is to pass this dialogue down to the younger generation.” — James Bernauer, SJ (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff

Published: Apr. 28, 2011

As Kraft Family Professor James Bernauer, SJ, explains it, the study of Jewish-Christian relations has entered its Golden Age.  

BC’s Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, which Fr. Bernauer directs, is playing a key role in the growing dialogue and body of scholarship in this area of study that draws on experts from multiple academic disciplines.  

Celebrating its 10th anniversary year, the center has sponsored numerous events that have brought scholars from across the globe to campus to examine some of the most pressing issues in the field of Jewish-Christian relations — including last month’s conference “Are Jews and Christians Living in a Post-Polemical World? Toward a Comparison of Medieval and Modern Christian-Jewish Encounters.” An endowed visiting professorship has brought leading scholars to BC to teach, research and collaborate with their peers.  

“We are becoming a real center for scholarly analysis,” said Fr. Bernauer. “What we are aiming for now is to combine both service to students with our service to the broader scholarly world.”  

Through a series of new projects, the center has incorporated additional opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to participate in center activities and learn from leading scholars.  

Fr. Bernauer says it is crucial for the field to encourage young students and scholars, lest this Golden Age succumb to a challenge posed by shifting demographics: many of the scholars who have led the field since the end of World War II are nearing their “golden years.”  

“This is a veteran group of scholars engaged in understanding and encouraging Christian-Jewish dialogue,” says Bernauer. “They have come out of the post-Holocaust and post-Vatican II eras. One of the real challenges is to pass this dialogue down to the younger generation.”  

To that end, the center has sought to increase opportunities for students to participate in center events and work with faculty. The center established a Junior Scholar Research Grant program, which supports student research under the direction of faculty. At the School of Theology and Ministry, a discussion group on the topic has formed and the center established an interdisciplinary graduate seminar regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

“We are trying to involve the center more in the life of the university and its students – both graduate and undergraduate,” said Fr. Bernauer, a professor in the Philosophy Department.    

Fr. Bernauer said the center has benefited from the establishment of the Corcoran Visiting Professorship, named in honor of the late John Corcoran, a 1948 alumnus and former trustee of Boston College, who made a gift to the University in 2000 to establish the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning.  

This year’s Corcoran Visiting Professor is Daniel Lasker, the Norbert Blechner Professor of Jewish Values at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. An expert in medieval polemical literature, Lasker taught a course last fall on Debating Religious Truth: Jews and Christians in the Medieval World.  

Lasker teamed up with Fr. Bernauer and center Associate Director Camille Fitzpatrick Markey to organize March’s  “Are Jews and Christians Living in a Post-Polemical World?” conference, which offered a new look at the controversial polemics in an effort to assess how they continue to shape Jewish-Christian relations.  

“Even though the past has a number of unhappy parts to it that many of us would like to see changed, the past is prologue and it influences greatly the situation today,” Lasker said. “That’s why these centers exist: to encourage a new understanding between Jews and Christians with an eye toward changing the situation so the many negative things in the past may not be repeated.”