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Berman Center receives three-year grant from Posen Foundation

Laurence Silberstein, the Berman Center's director, believes the Posen Foundation grants will allow the center to join a group of prestigious universities participating in a cutting-edge conversation in the field of Jewish Studies

Lehigh University’s Philip and Muriel Berman Center for Jewish Studies has been awarded a three-year grant in the amount of $50,000 per year from the Posen Foundation, to be administered by the Center for Cultural Judaism. The grants are awarded on a competitive basis to foster the development of courses and programs that highlight the secular dimensions of Jewish history and culture.

The grant will help fund two new courses on secular Jewish history and culture, faculty seminars, colloquia, an interdisciplinary conference, and the publication of a conference volume.

Two core courses, taught by Joanna Michlic, Helene and Allen Apter Chair of Holocaust Studies and Ethical Values, and Laurence Silberstein, Philip and Muriel Berman Professor of Jewish Studies and Director of the Berman Center, will focus respectively on secular Jewish movements in Eastern Europe in the 19th century, and Jewish encounter with the secular from Spinoza to the present. Additional courses will incorporate units on the secular dimensions of ancient and modern Judaism.

The grant also enables the Berman Center to bring together an interdisciplinary group of faculty from Lehigh and neighboring institutions to critically explore current thinking across the disciplines regarding the concepts of the secular and secularization. A faculty reading group has already initiated the discussion and plans to continue to meet throughout the academic year.

“In being awarded a grant from the Posen Foundation, the Berman Center joins a group of prestigious universities participating in a cutting-edge conversation in the field of Jewish Studies,” says Silberstein. “The Posen Grant enables the Center to provide Lehigh students with an expanded list of course offerings and co-curricular programs focusing on the secular and cultural aspects of Judaism.”

Recent sociological studies have suggested that nearly half of American Jews consider themselves secular, although, like religion, the term means different things to different people. The percentage of secular Jews is even higher in Israel. These Jews are heirs to forms of secular Jewish culture reaching back more than two centuries. The courses supported by the grant are intended to inform students about this little known dimension of Judaism.

With the grant’s support, the Center also plans to sponsor a year-end colloquium in 2009 in which scholars in Jewish studies and related fields can engage in an in-depth inquiry into the concept of Jewish secularism. The Berman Center will also sponsor its ninth interdisciplinary conference in spring 2010, in which scholars from across the nation and abroad will reflect on the complex interplay of the religious and the secular in Jewish history and culture.

“The Berman Center’s many achievements make it well positioned to carry out the Posen Foundation’s mission to support the academic study of Jewish secularism,” says Anne Meltzer, Herbert and Ann Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The Center is known within the College of Arts and Sciences for its distinctive interdisciplinary approach that has engaged faculty from a wide variety of fields in its programs.”

--Tricia Long

Posted on Tuesday, November 11, 2008

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