Religious majors, minors to be instated

Nathalie Tadena

For the first time, Northwestern will offer a formal Jewish Studies major and Catholic Studies minor this academic year.The new Catholic Studies minor is offered through NU’s religious studies department, while the Jewish Studies major is part of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies program, which previously offered a minor. Before Weinberg’s approval of these concentrations, students could design an ad hoc major that focused on Judaism or Catholicism.”This is really the first moment in our history we have the staff to allow us to teach courses that are aimed directly at Catholic Studies,” said Cristina Traina, an associate professor of religion and director of the Catholic Studies minor. Since she came to NU in 1992, Traina said the religious studies department has doubled in size “primarily because students are so interested in religious studies.” Traina said there are six professors in the religion department who regularly teach Catholic Studies classes. The minor requires the completion of at least six relevant classes. Students graduating in 2011 or later can examine Catholicism’s history in the Western World as well as its cultural, political and economic impacts, she said.NU offers approximately 13 to 15 courses every quarter in Jewish Studies, a program that was founded in 1984, said Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies. Though many of NU’s peer institutions offer larger departments dedicated to Jewish studies, Petrovsky-Shtern said there are benefits behind the setup of NU’s program, which is interdisciplinary.”It’s a strength for us to be a trans-departmental program,” he said. “We have scholars from different departments who come together under the roof of Jewish studies and at the same time, they represent Jewish studies in other fields. It may diminish our visibility, but it enhances the educational quality and allows us to prove the importance of Jewish studies in the framework of other departments.”The Jewish Studies program is in the search process for a new faculty member to lead a medieval Jewish studies class. The religious studies department also has plans to add two teaching positions, one for modern Jewish thought and another for Second Temple Judaism, Petrovsky-Shtern said.The development of specialized religious studies programs has also sparked student interest in the creation of an Islamic Studies program, said Muhammad Safdari, Associated Student Government’s academic director.”In American public discourse, everyone talks about Islam, but no one really studies it,” the Weinberg senior said. “It’s a global issue that is very important in the 21st century.” He said a committee of representatives from various student groups hopes to work with faculty and administrators to develop an Islamic Studies minor in Weinberg. Among universities, there has been a growing number of religious studies concentrations focused on a particular religious tradition, said Religious Studies Prof. Robert Orsi. “Global events of the last 10 years have made it clear once again that a familiarity in religious countries and religious traditions is an important part of citizenship in the contemporary world,” Orsi said. “Religion remains an important, vital part of human culture.”

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