Jewish Studies Degree Established
The city of Bamberg can look back on nearly one thousand years of German-Jewish history. References to the Jewish community can be found in archival sources dating back as far as the Middle Ages. But it’s not just the cathedral city that has been shaped by the oldest of the world’s major monotheistic religions: any understanding of the German language, culture and history cannot be truly comprehensive without a sound knowledge of Judaism. Beginning in the 2016/17 winter semester, students at the University of Bamberg can pursue a bachelor’s degree in “Jewish Studies”. With the expansion of a subject that was previously only available as a minor, Bamberg is now the first university in Bavaria and one of only six in all of Germany that offers a full degree curriculum dedicated to Judaism in the broader context of religious, cultural and literary studies.
The establishment of this new degree programme represents yet another step that the University of Bamberg has taken to strengthen its smaller disciplines. At the degree programme’s opening ceremony on 27 October 2016, university president Prof. Godehard Ruppert spoke to these efforts, saying, “Small disciplines like Jewish studies are a hallmark of the university.” Continuing, he also referred to the influence of these smaller programmes on the broader academic community: “[These programmes’] continuous expansion and cultivation are dear to our heart. It’s precisely these subjects that stimulate interdisciplinary cooperation.”
Speaking on behalf of the Jewish community, Dr Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, congratulated the university at the evening event. “We need people who regard foreign religions and cultures with openness and curiosity and who can act as cross-cultural ambassadors,” said Dr Schuster, adding that this kind of interaction is vitally important in times of rising intolerance of minority groups. Schuster praised the university’s expansion of Jewish Studies from a scripture-based minor to a broader programme that also incorporates developments in literature, art and culture.
In addition to biblical and modern Hebrew, students in the new degree programme are presented with a curriculum that focuses heavily on the diversity of Jewish culture and literary traditions. In this context, the programme incorporates historical and modern developments that have emerged both in Germany and other European countries, and in non-European countries like the USA and Israel. This broad curricular base is facilitated by the Jewish Studies department’s cooperation with subject representatives from fields like English and American studies, theology and German language and literature and culture. Moreover, those responsible for the programme are mindful of stressing its great potential for practical applicability, as Prof. Susanne Talabardon explained. Together with her involved colleagues Dr Klaus Bieberstein, Dr Pascal Fischer, Dr Iris Hermann and Dr Christoph Houswitschka, Prof. Talabardon introduced the new degree programme. In her presentation, she placed a particular focus on one of the programmes key components, saying, “It is especially important to us to instruct our students in how to further impart the academic knowledge that they gain – in the context of adult education, for example.”
In his own speech at the opening ceremony, Prof. Karl Erich Grötzinger, who is considered one of the founders of Jewish Studies in Germany, pointed out that not only Jewish Studies but also the other associated disciplines all benefit from an interdisciplinary approach. He underlined the programme’s relevance, saying, “Those who wish to truly understand Germany and indeed all of Europe must also possess an understanding of Judaism.” He particularly welcomed the establishment of such a degree programme in Franconia, a region that was very early settled by sizeable Jewish congregations. The Franconian-Jewish past is also a topic that students will be able to explore: Bamberg’s regional project on Jewish-Franconian history (Jüdisch-Fränkische Heimatkunde) provides a framework within which they can trace the lines of Jewish-Christian interaction in local villages and reconstruct history with the aid of original sources like archival documents and grave inscriptions.