Why Study Jewish Studies?

The Program in Jewish Culture & Society promotes and supports teaching, research, and the production of new knowledge about Jewish culture and society throughout the world. An array of courses in various disciplines, faculty experts committed to teaching and scholarship related to Jewish studies, and extensive library resources and cultural programming enable students to explore the richness and multiplicity of the Jewish worlds past and present. Diverse and scintillating public programs—from Klezmer to Israeli cinema—engage students, faculty, and community while fostering dialogue about a range of concerns.

The core faculty are consistently listed on the list of teachers ranked as excellent and are all dedicated professors. Most employers seek the following skills: critical thinking, knowledge about the world, excellent writing skills, and knowledge of diverse cultures. Becoming a minor or major in Jewish Studies sets you up for almost any career—whether in Jewish Studies or law, or a professorship, or business or anything else! Our graduates have become successful in a wide array of careers. 

We possess several main areas of faculty strength that we are building on in ways that make us even more distinctive.

Russia and Eastern European Studies: Many significant developments in the history of Judaism and Jewish thought, literature and politics stem from Jewish communities in Russia and Eastern Europe. The study of anti-Jewish prejudice in Eastern Europe and other locations calls attention to racialized hierarchies between Jews and non-Jews as well as those that existed among Jews. We produce important new scholarship that examines these questions. The study of interethnic relations and conflicts, so important to understanding antisemitism today, can fruitfully study relations between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors before the Holocaust. Several major Jewish political, religious, and social movement with which we are familiar today -- from Hasidism to Zionism to socialism to the rebirth of Hebrew as a modern language -- originated in Russia and eastern Europe, among Yiddish-speaking Jews. 

Israel Studies Project: This project, in collaboration with the Jewish United Fund of Greater Metropolitan Chicago, brings world-renowned Israeli writers and scholars to campus and supports major conferences. Through this initiative, we hosted an impressive array of Israeli filmmakers and scholars for a conference entitled “A Film of Her Own: Women in Israeli Cinema.” Other recent visitors have included Sayed Kashua, Dorit Rabinyan, Etgar Keret, and Joseph Cedar. 

Sephardi and Mizrahi Studies: Our Program boasts a number of faculty members who are actively engaged in Sephardi and Mizrachi studies. The field of Sephardi and Mizrachi studies is one of the most vibrant areas of research today, dealing with topics ranging from the life of Jews in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire to the Caribbean/Latin American diaspora and the culture of modern Israel. The University of Illinois Library is home to one of the largest repositories of Sephardic folk literature collected from informants around the world. We teach courses in North African, Israeli, and Caribbean literature and cinema. 

Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, Memory Studies: This initiative brings together scholars across campus who are interested in comparative genocide issues and who work on questions of trauma and memory in the contexts of the Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambodia, Armenia, and other geographic and historical sites. In the Fall of 2017, we launched an HGMS faculty seminar that presents the work of UIUC and visiting faculty and is open to graduate students. HGMS is very committed to fostering graduate student education and to that end we have a Future of Trauma and Memory Studies reading group, we are affiliated with Mnemonics (an international summer school that holds an annual conference), we are encouraging HGMS students to become engaged in the program by offering them chances to write for the newsletter and/or the blog and to perform. 

Study of Religion: Through courses such as Intensive Biblical Hebrew, Jewish Sacred Literature, Readings in Rabbinic Midrash, and Medieval Jewish Thought, students learn about the history and practice of Jewish religions. Through scintillating talks on such subjects as “The Double Helix of Jewish History: Genetics & The Search for the Origin of the Jews,” or “Ruin the Sacred Truth: The Problem of the Torah for Religion and Literature,” students, faculty, and community members expand their understanding of the religious aspects of Judaism.