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Schools Receive Jewish Secularism Grants
by Myrna Baron, Apr 5, 2006
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NEW YORK -- Five new institutions, including Brown University and the Graduate Theological Union, were named as Posen Grant recipients for the 2006-07 academic year, joining 11 other American universities and colleges that now receive funding through the Posen Project for the study of secular Jewish history and cultures.

Binghamton University, Miami University of Ohio, and Rutgers University will also join the growing program, and each will receive $50,000 per year, for up to three years, towards the development of new courses of study in this area.

"Selections were made on the basis of a strong proposed core course; an understanding of what it means to teach courses in Jewish secularism or secular Jewish culture; scholarship in this area; and the ability to integrate these courses over time and make them permanent," explained Myrna Baron, executive director of the Center for Cultural Judaism, which administers the grants.

Each school proposed a "core" course -- the centerpiece of its application -- that met the criteria established by the Center; the Posen Foundation, which underwrites the grants; and by an academic advisory committee of four professors charged with selecting this year's grantees.

Each institution's "core" course explores a period of rapid secularization that began in the 18th century, after the European Enlightenment.  Known as the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, it marked a dramatic change in intellectual Jewish thought and Jewish life. "Yet students often don't understand its impact unless it is taught as its own discrete subject," Baron said.

The proposals reflect the importance of the effects of secularization, said Baron. The Graduate Theological Union, for instance, proposed a course in "Secular Jewish Thought." Miami University of Ohio conceived a survey of "Secular Jewish Culture from the Enlightenment to Zionism."

The Posen Project began in 2000, and in less than five years, has grown to include 25 institutions in both Israel and the United States. It is expected to double in size over the next few years.

The University of Virginia, which joined the Posen Project in the current academic year, has already seen benefits in and out of the classroom, among students and faculty. "The Posen courses and guest lectures have more than enriched our curriculum at UVA-they have expanded the awareness of our community of learners to include cultural Judaism as a vibrant and diverse heritage, a body of knowledge that is a vital pillar of Jewish Studies," explained Vanessa L. Ochs, University of Virginia's Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies.

Additional recipients of the Posen Project grants include Bard and Dickinson Colleges; University of Albany; University of California - Davis; UCLA; University of Massachusetts - Amherst; University of Michigan; University of Miami; Temple University; and University of Denver, all of whom have developed courses in secularism with the help of Posen grants.

Similar programs are underway in Israel at Haifa University, Tel Aviv University, Ofakim Teachers' Program at Tel Aviv University, Oranim College, the Interdisciplinary Center for Herzliya, Kerem Teachers Training Institute, Lewinsky Teachers College, Achva Hebrew College, and Open University.

Professors from many of the sixteen schools were present at the 2nd Annual Conference on the Teaching of Jewish Secularism in the University, held March 26-27 at the University of Miami Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies.

The Center for Cultural Judaism was established in 2003 in response to emerging new insights into American Jewish demography that confirm that the majority of Jews are secular. The Center for Cultural Judaism supports educational programs on behalf of this large, underserved population in North America. Information on the Posen Project and syllabi of courses underway are available online at www.culturaljudaism.org.

Myrna Baron, Executive Director
Center for Cultural Judaism         
80 Eighth Avenue, Suite 206
New York, NY 10011
212-564-6711 x301

URL: http://www.wnrf.org/cms/jewish_secularism.shtml

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