Spring 2014 courses

RELG 383, Introduction to Judaism, Wardlaw 101, 3:55 pm – 5:10 pm

Why do Jews eat crackers on Passover and why are they square? Is kosher food blessed by rabbis? How is Judaism different from Christianity or Islam? How does the Holocaust impact twenty-first century American Jews? Why are there so many Jewish jokes on the Daily Show? And, in the year 2014, what on earth is a Jew? We will approach these questions through the lens of the Haggadah, a ritual manual Jews read during Passover.

This “living text”, arguably the most popular Jewish book after the Hebrew Bible, will be our key to unlock a number of ideas that have shaped the Jewish experience such as the Oral Torah, the emphasis on prayer and social justice, sanctification of daily life, but also the impact of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and gay and transgender rights. You will notice that the last four classes are TBA. Those are classes whose topics will be determined by you, the students. Suggested topics are: the Ark of the Covenant, conversion to Judaism, Black Hebrews, Jews of color, Israeli music…

 RELG 203Z Introduction to Comparative Religion (asynchronous online course)

This course is an  introduction to comparative religion. You will think about the role of spirituality and religion in public life, and explore a number of religious traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, as well as Atheism and some more recent religious movements.

Current Project: Transgendered Jews in legal and medical Hebrew texts

My project looks at gender variance in medieval Hebrew texts written by commentators of Jewish law (the Rishonim) who were active in Europe and the Mediterranean between 1000-1500.

Two years of the anti–Semitism report in Germany

In 2008, the Bundestag decided to set up an independent work group to study the state of anti-Semitism in Germany. After a year of deliberation, the group was convened and after another year had passed (we are now in 2011), they published their report. It wasn’t pretty… 20% of Germans were seen as anti-Semitic, possibly more.

Two years later, not one of their recommendations has been put into action, and there seems to be no consensus that there might be any need to for action. In the meantime, a neo-Nazi terror group has been dismantled, after they had committed a number of murders, and anti-Semitic sentiment, if anything, has risen in popularity.

You can read more in German, here:

And the original report of the Bundestag is here:

Encyclopedia of Hinduism

Last week, the International Encyclopedia of Hinduism was launched, only about 25 years in the making. Begun in the 19802, this was “a big deal” as far as books go, and I found myself inexplicably moved. Milling about the beautiful president’s garden, there were Carolinians and Indians who had worked on the encyclopedia from the beginning, some who had joined recently and others who, like me, had only heard about it.


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For me, this was also a great opportunity to meet my new colleagues, Dr. Mari J. Stuart, and Dr. Daniel Stuart, here with Dr. Erin Roberts.


and here a bit closer up:


Professors came, administrators, writers, researchers, even a Swami, Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, the founder and chairman of the India Heritage Research Foundation, and the Indian Ambassador to the US:


Our President, Dr. Pastides was there as well of course:

As was our governor, the first US governor of Asian descent, Nikki Haley.


If Peace Never Comes, This Will Be the Reason

If Peace Never Comes, This Will Be the Reason

An excellent article about competing national narratives, and a good reminder of  just how complex communal and individual identities are.

Cairo Geniza

I just finished reading Sacred Trash, a wonderful book that tells the story of the Geniza’s “rediscovery” as a treasure trove of the  Mediterranean world in the middle Ages. I had read many of the (standard) works mentioned in the book as a graduate student, and it was tremendous fun to get to know the authors! And then, after a discussion with a friend about the use of recent technology, I came across this article in the NYT, on Piecing Together a Jigsaw of Jewish Lore.  


Vatican City Explained

If you ever wondered what status the Vatican has, here it is, explained, in only seven minutes. Sort of.


Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben

Today, on April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonnhoeffer, opponent of the Nazis, and a theologian and leader of the Confessing Church [an underground Church in German] was executed, just a few days before the end of the war.

A few months before he died, he wrote this poem, one of my mother’s favorite songs.

This is exactly how I remember singing it as a child:

With every power for good to stay and guide me,
comforted and inspired beyond all fear,
I’ll live these days with you in thought beside me,
and pass, with you, into the coming year.

The old year still torments our hearts, unhastening;
the long days of our sorrow still endure;
Father, grant to the souls thou hast been chastening
that thou hast promised, the healing and the cure.

Should it be ours to drain the cup of grieving
even to the dregs of pain, at thy command,
we will not falter, thankfully receiving
all that is given by thy loving hand.

But should it be thy will once more to release us
to life’s enjoyment and its good sunshine,
that which we’ve learned from sorrow shall increase us,
and all our life be dedicate as thine.

Today, let candles shed their radiant greeting;
lo, on our darkness are they not thy light
leading us, haply, to our longed-for meeting? -
Thou canst illumine even our darkest night.

When now the silence deepens for our hearkening,
grant we may hear thy children’s voices raise
from all the unseen world around us darkening
their universal paean, in thy praise.

While all the powers of good aid and attend us,
boldly we’ll face the future, come what may.
At even and at morn God will befriend us,
and oh, most surely on each newborn day!


Von guten Mächten treu und still umgeben,
Behütet und getröstet wunderbar,
So will ich diese Tage mit euch leben
Und mit euch gehen in ein neues Jahr.

Noch will das alte unsre Herzen quälen,
Noch drückt uns böser Tage schwere Last.
Ach, Herr, gib unsern aufgescheuchten Seelen
Das Heil, für das du uns bereitet hast.

Und reichst du uns den schweren Kelch, den bittern
Des Leids, gefüllt bis an den höchsten Rand,
So nehmen wir ihn dankbar ohne Zittern
Aus deiner guten und geliebten Hand.

Doch willst du uns noch einmal Freude schenken
An dieser Welt und ihrer Sonne Glanz,
Dann wolln wir des Vergangenen gedenken
Und dann gehört dir unser Leben ganz.

Lass warm und still die Kerzen heute flammen,
Die du in unsre Dunkelheit gebracht.
Führ, wenn es sein kann, wieder uns zusammen.
Wir wissen es, dein Licht scheint in der Nacht.

Wenn sich die Stille nun tief um uns breitet,
So lass uns hören jenen vollen Klang
Der Welt, die unsichtbar sich um uns weitet,
All deiner Kinder hohen Lobgesang.

Von guten Mächten wunderbar geborgen,
Erwarten wir getrost, was kommen mag.
Gott ist mit uns am Abend und am Morgen
Und ganz gewiss an jedem neuen Tag.

This Sunday, I will be speaking at

Religions in 21st-Century South Carolina:
Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Your Neighbor’s (or Your) Religion But Were Afraid to Ask

An Introduction to Bahá’í, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native American beliefs, Paganism, Sikhism, and Unitarian-Universalism.  Learn about the origins, history, development, spread, beliefs, practices, organization, diversity, relationship to other faiths and presence in South Carolina of these religions. Hear from scholars, clergy and believers with time for questions and socializing.

More information can be found here.


Dov Hikind’s Purim gaffe

This year, Dov Hikind, the NY Assembly men, dressed up as a baseball player for Purim. In blackface. And while this was already a bad idea, he didn’t help himself with his remarks made in front of the camera later on, such as

“In hindsight, I should have picked something else. It never crossed my mind for a split second that I was doing something wrong. It was as innocent as something can be…” and: “I understand people’s sensitivities. Nobody meant anything. It was not meant to offend you or hurt you in any fashion. I’m sorry people were offended. It was not meant that way.”

Ooops… The whole incident is making higher and higher waves, and I’m curious to see what he has to say about this. Oh well. In case you missed it, check out Jon Stewart’s remarks in the Daily Show, with the Senior Purim Correspondent. Some people really still seem to be stuck in the 5600s….

Don Jones of blessed memory

Professor Don Jones

It is with deep regret that I announce the passing of  Professor Don Jones who taught New Testament Studies at at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Carolina for 45 years, passed away on December 24, 2012. A funeral service was held December 27.

I met Don for the first time when I interviewed for this position, he was a member of the search committee that ended up hiring me.  He loved teaching, books, and, as a Bultmannian, debunking ideas more literary-minded students might have hedged about Jesus or the New Testament. Don will be missed. A link to an obituary in the State can be found here.

May his memory be for a blessing.