U. of C. Divinity School and JUF launch program in Israel Studies

In conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the University of Chicago Divinity School has established a new program on “Religion and Culture in the 21st Century: New Perspectives from Israel.” The program will be advanced through visiting faculty in Israel studies beginning this winter and extending through the 2011-2012 academic year.

On Wednesday, March 11, at 5:00 p.m. in the Swift Lecture Hall, visiting Professor Shimshon Zelnicker will deliver the program’s inaugural public lecture. His topic will be "Israel After the Elections: What Now?" The lecture is free and open to the public. Swift Hall is located on the main quadrangle of the University of Chicago campus, at 1025 East 58th Street. Get more information

Zelnicker, the first visiting professor in the program, is a political scientist and diplomat whose scholarship encompasses the intersections of politics and religion. He possesses special expertise on the social and political relations of the nations and peoples of the Middle East. Zelnicker is a former director of the Van Leer Institute in Israel and an emeritus faculty member of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Israel studies is a relatively new academic field that seeks to foster the interdisciplinary study of modern Israel. Emerging in the United States in the mid-1980s, the field’s primary focus has been the study of Israel in the context of international relations, political science, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Recently there has been increasing interest in approaching Israel in the framework of the nation’s history, diverse society, political structure, and culture. The Divinity School’s program is meant to help shape the field by examining the place of religion in Israel’s life and culture.

“It is a special pleasure and truly a halcyon occasion to partner with the Jewish Federation in this initiative, which helps the School to carry forward its commitment to the study of Judaism in a context that links it so closely to our longstanding commitment to excellent public discourse and enhanced understanding of religion,” said Richard Rosengarten, dean of the Divinity School. “I am particularly grateful to Michael Kotzin, who is always a great collaborator and whose efforts on this have been integral to its realization.”

Kotzin, JUF/JF executive vice president, directs the Federation’s Israel Studies Project, which has helped place Israel scholars and programs at four campuses in Illinois.

The Divinity School includes faculty and students who study the scriptural and interpretive traditions, the histories, and the normative traditions of thought in the three Abrahamic traditions. The program of visitors in Israel studies affords the School a unique opportunity to focus these strengths around particular aspects of the heritage of Israel past, present, and future.

The program also aims to promote connections between the Divinity School and the wider community, reflecting the School's interest in enhancing civil discourse about religion. To this end the visiting Israel studies professors will, in addition to teaching a course at the Divinity School that will be cross-listed in the wider university, deliver public lectures on their research, in order to engage an audience from throughout the city.
In the winter quarter of 2010, Galit Hasan-Rokem of the Hebrew University will be in residence and will teach and lecture on modern Israeli fiction.

For more information about “Religion and Culture in the 21st Century: New Perspectives from Israel,” contact Terren Wein.

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