What Students Want/Need (Jewish Studies) (Complements/Supplements)


Regarding my recent posting about what students want from Jewish Studies at Syracuse, Brian Small, Director of Programming and Student Engagement, and also Interim Executive Director of Hillel at Syracuse University had this to say. As always, I defer to his better expertise in regards to all things student related. His take is far more granular than mine, reminding us that different students are going to want different things from Jewish Studies relating to (other) major and minor areas of study. At a time when students double major, this should be pretty easy to finesse. Here’s what Brian had to say in a private email about what he hears from students every day at Hillel. Brian has graciously permitted me to pass along:

I am told, over and over, that the students want specialized topics that apply to their majors.  If they are pre-meds, they want Bio-Ethics in Judaism 101.  If they are Newhouse, they want the Holocaust in the Movies 101.  Architecture students want the Architecture of Israel 101.  If they are in business, they want Business Innovations in Israel 101 (like they have at WUSTL, see the link below).

 This seems to ring true around the country and many programs have introduced immersion experiences that take advantage of the socio-economics of the student demographic: http://news.wustl.edu/news/pages/23520.aspx

 Birthright this year provided further insight.  A small, but significant percentage of the students WE DO NOT SEE at Hillel on a regular basis indicated that they were International Relations Majors interested in attending the trip to learn more about the region.

The problem with presenting Judaism as history is that Jewish students here at Syracuse do not perceive history as relevant to their current experience.  I believe that they really seek to understand where Judaism fits into their specific areas of relevance.

The “trick” is to figure out how to integrate Jewish Studies into broader areas of intellectual and professional interest as either a complement or as a supplement. It It sounds cynical, but it’s not. Wouldn’t any academic want to want one’s own more specialized area of primary interest to branch out and speak to other people for whom this interest is not necessarily or at first primary? And if we can’t, then what’s the point? Knowledge for the sake of knowledge? We can’t make them listen to us if they’re not interested, and if they’re not interested, well, maybe there’s plenty of fault to go around for that, in Jewish Studies and the Humanities writ large.

I’d like to say that I use the term “supplement not unaware of Derrida’s insight in Grammatology about how a secondary point of interest, in this case Jewish Studies, might always have already worked to dis-place or even overtake the first term or interest, onto which it comes to add. But frankly, I’d be happy enough if Judaic Studies or any other humanistic inquiry remained a secondary point of interest for even the majority of our minors and even majors. Ideally, one could get them to work together –in tandem, at critical intersections, or along parallel tracks.



About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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2 Responses to What Students Want/Need (Jewish Studies) (Complements/Supplements)

  1. esque says:

    All this uncritical love for “experience” as a mode of knowledge is positively unscholarly, no?

    • zjb says:

      no, no it’s not, because “experience” is itself subject to critical scholarly inquiry –political, sociological, phenomenological, psychological, historical. i find my colleagues’ reaction to our students all frankly hysterical. “they” seem to know what they want, perhaps better than we do. what’s wrong with “you” people?!!

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