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UAlbany Center for Jewish Studies Expands to Include Courses on Secular Judaism
$50,000 Posen Foundation grant supports new program development

Contact: Lisa James Goldsberry (518) 437-4980

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 19, 2004) -- The University at Albany has received a $50,000 grant through the Center for Cultural Judaism, supported by the Posen Foundation, to develop new courses related to the study of secular Jewish life and culture.

The new courses will count toward the minor and/or major in Judaic Studies, part of the College of Arts and Sciences. Among the proposed courses are "Origins of Secular Jewish Life," "Modern Yiddish Culture," "The Search for Meaning in 20th Century Secular Hebrew Literature," and "Imagining the Nation: Varieties of Secular Jewish Nationalism." Some of the courses will begin in the fall 2004 semester, others in spring 2005.

Mark A. Raider, chair of the Department of Judaic Studies and director of the Center for Jewish Studies, said, “This is a spectacular opportunity to expand the breadth and reach of Jewish studies at UAlbany. We are grateful to Mr. Felix Posen for his visionary leadership in this critical area of scholarship and teaching.”

The Posen Foundation, headed by philanthropist Felix Posen, and The Center for Cultural Judaism support the belief that the secularization of Judaism is a vital and irrefutable part of modern Jewish life, and requires study and understanding with respect to its history, texts and philosophers.

Posen has declared it his mission “to be a service-provider for cultural and secular Jews, who represent the largest portion of the Jewish population and are by far the most underserved.” In offering these grants, the aim of The Center for Cultural Judaism and the Posen Foundation is to support the teaching of new courses designed specifically to examine the phenomenon of Secular Judaism in its own right, as its own topic. Secular Judaism is the study of Judaism as culture, stressing the concept of the Jewish people (independently of religion and of political citizenship), as the basic existential and collective dimension of Jewish identity. The Posen Foundation grant will significantly advance the UAlbany Jewish Studies department’s efforts to promote the academic unbiased study of Judaism and the Jewish experience in the diaspora and Israel from antiquity to the present.

The Posen Foundation established two colleges in Israel and initiated the launch of programs to teach secular Judaism at several Israeli institutions of higher learning. Negotiations are underway with top American universities to duplicate such efforts in the United States.

UAlbany is home to one of the oldest Judaic Studies Departments in the country. The Center for Jewish Studies, inaugurated in 2002, aims to consolidate and strengthen Jewish studies in public higher education to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to first-rate academic programs dedicated to the study of Jewish history and life. The Center also focuses on strengthening the education, research and public service mission of UAlbany by promoting a deeper understanding of the social and historical dimensions of Jewish civilization. The overarching vision of the Center is to establish the University at Albany as a flagship of Jewish studies for public higher education in the northeast and the nation.

UAlbany is one of only six U.S. schools to receive a grant this year. Others include the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Temple University, the University of Miami, the University of California, Davis, and the University of Denver.

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