Originally published in The Jewish Advocate.
CHESTNUT HILL – In an unusual move for a Catholic university, Boston College is unveiling a Jewish studies program this fall.
Initially, students will be able to minor in Jewish studies by taking six courses in that curriculum during their time at B.C. What makes the Jewish studies minor unique is that classes will be offered from nine different departments, including English, fine arts, history, music, philosophy, romance languages, Slavic and eastern languages, sociology and theology.
“We were struck by the large number of Jewish faculty on the campus and the significant number of courses that had a fairly hefty Jewish content in them already,” said program co-director Dwayne E. Carpenter. “What we wanted to do is to organize these disparate courses into a cohesive program that would enable students to better take advantage of B.C.’s rich curricular offerings.”
Ruth Langer, associate director of the college’s Center for Christian-Jewish Relations, sits on the board for the program. She told The Jewish Advocate that, while she is the “only person on campus actually hired to teach Judaism specifically,” there have been proposals for a Jewish studies program circulating for at least a decade.
According to Langer, work on the program in its current incarnation began last summer, and the program will be officially inaugurated in October. The launch of the program is timed to coincide with the New Center for Art and Culture’s presentation of “The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and Their Salons” at the college’s McMullen Museum of Art. On Oct. 2, the Jewish studies program will present a “Jewish Studies Salon” to tie the two together.
Carpenter predicts strong interest in the program from all quarters. “Given the interest that’s already been expressed informally, even before the program was begun, we’re encouraged to think that not only Jewish students, but also non-Jewish students will find this an attractive program,” he said. “At our organizational meeting, close to 60 faculty members expressed an interest in either participating directly or supporting a Jewish studies program.”
Previously, a student could pursue a minor in theology or in Middle East and Islamic studies. “I think one of the things that encouraged us to aim for an interdisciplinary minor in Jewish studies is that the Middle East program focuses on Islamic studies as well and, in fact, has done exceptionally well in terms of the number of students now studying Arabic – close to 80 students, up from zero four years ago,” said Carpenter, who also sits on the Middle East program committee. “I know that many of us consider it important that Jewish studies also be represented, particularly at a place like Boston College that has a strong Catholic foundation, that Jewish studies be seen as more than a program that deals with the religious tradition.”
Although in its early years Jewish studies will be available only as a minor, there are plans in place to foster its development into a stronger academic offering. “The consensus was that we should begin as a minor and let it develop into a major,” Carpenter said. “We want to start out with a solid foundation for this program, and let it grow, rather than start out too ambitiously.”
Students in the program will also be encouraged to study abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.