Announcement, fall 2011
In 2003, when the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies was formed, the faculty and Board of Advisors had a visionary goal in mind: create a Jewish Studies major. It was a long-term goal, requiring a much larger faculty, significantly expanded course offerings, and increased student demand for Jewish Studies opportunities.
The major needed not only strong support from the faculty and administration, but also from alumni and friends, who would need to provide considerable private funds to create endowed faculty chairs and to support the Center’s programs and its students. Just eight years later, the Center’s faculty petitioned the administration for the major; it was approved this spring, making it the first Jewish Studies major in the state of North Carolina. Next year, Carolina’s students can declare the major, and the courses are already available for students to begin meeting the requirements for the major.
“So many people have worked toward this goal, from inside the university and from Carolina’s alumni, and from our community at large. It really was a collective effort, all with the goal of creating something important, and meaningful, for Carolina’s undergraduates,” said Jonathan Hess, director. “Our undergraduates are truly amazing students and scholars. Their interest in Jewish Studies has continued to grow over the years, and I am excited to see them embrace this major and further the field of Jewish Studies.”
Since the creation of the Center, student interest in Jewish Studies courses has been consistently strong. The College of Arts and Sciences already has more than thirty five courses in Jewish Studies on the books in seven different departments, and more than 1,000 undergraduates take Jewish Studies courses each year. The minor in Jewish Studies supports several students per year, and the Introduction to Jewish Studies course (JWST 100/RELI 123), introduced in fall 2009, regularly enrolls more than sixty undergraduate students each fall. “It is exciting to witness this milestone,” said Hal Levinson, chair of the Center’s advisory board. “When I was a student at Carolina in the late 1970s, no one even considered the possibility of a major in Jewish Studies. I am grateful to the many people who played a role in helping make this goal a reality, and I look forward to meeting the students who will be among our first to declare Jewish Studies as a major.”
The field of Jewish Studies explores the history, literature, culture and religious life of Jews in their interaction with other peoples from the Biblical period to the present. Jewish Studies is by necessity interdisciplinary, and the Jewish Studies program at Carolina draws its faculty from a variety of academic units in the humanities, including religious studies, history, American studies, English and comparative literature, Asian studies, and Germanic and Slavic languages and literatures. Both its chronological scope and the range of geographical areas that it explores make Jewish Studies an appealing field for undergraduates from diverse backgrounds, and the historical experience of Jews as a diasporic people makes Jewish Studies a rich field for exploring the interaction between cultures, traditions and religions. Thus, the interdisciplinary major in Jewish Studies represents both an exemplar of an undergraduate liberal arts education and a compelling perspective from which to pursue work in the humanities more generally.
The degree program will be offered through the Department of Religious Studies, where students will earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies with a Concentration in Jewish Studies.