Stanford Gets $12 Million for Jewish Studies

By Josh Tapper

Published May 19, 2010, issue of May 28, 2010.
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Stanford University will introduce a new doctoral concentration in education and Jewish studies, thanks to a $12 million grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation.

The grant, which will endow a professorship for the program, is the largest gift in the history of Stanford’s School of Education. The program is expected to launch in January, 2011.

Stanford, located in Palo Alto, Calif., joins New York University as one of two national research institutions offering a doctorate in education and Jewish studies. NYU’S program is also funded by the JJF, which funds a diversity of education-based projects for American Jewish youth.

“There’s a need to produce more scholars with this background,” said Sam Wineburg, a Stanford professor of education and history who collaborated on the initial planning grant. “More children across the globe are educated in religious institutions than secular ones; however, we don’t yet know, and have not yet begun to properly study, what ramifications this may have for future generations.”

Those involved believe that the program will encourage innovative research on the intersection of religion and education, an academic crossroads rarely studied at secular institutions. Among other things, the curriculum — developed in tandem by the Stanford University School of Education and its Taube Center for Jewish Studies — will examine both the influence of religious education on identity formation and the impact of religious schooling on moral behavior. More broadly, the goal is to train scholars who will have an impact on the world of elementary and secondary school learning.

For the first three years of the program, two students will be admitted annually. One additional student will be accepted each year until the incoming class peaks at seven. “What makes this renewed concentration unique is its broad, all-encompassing approach to education,” said Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. “SUSE and the Jim Joseph Foundation understand that Jewish education encompasses issues of nationality, peoplehood and culture, as well as religion, that Judaism is a broad civilization embracing both secular and Jewish elements.”

The role of religion in secular education has come under the microscope in recent months, most notably in Texas, where conservative activists have petitioned the state school board to play up the role of Christianity in the state’s social studies curriculum. Stanford University School of Education Dean Deborah Stipek said that beyond its Jewish focus, the grant would help expand scholarship on the “nexus of culture, religion and education.” Founded in 2006, JJF has granted nearly $145 million as of July 2009 to target communities in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston and Washington. Twenty-one percent of that total was used to fund experiential and classroom education projects for Jews ages 23 to 30, with nearly $17 million aimed directly at university degree programs.

Contact Josh Tapper at tapper@forward.com






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