Philanthropy helps to create new Chair in Jewish Studies at Nottingham

Agata Bielik-Robson and Holger Zellentin
09 May 2011 15:55:00.000


A new chair at The University of Nottingham will make it one of the UK’s leading centres for the study of Judaism — thanks to the generosity of donors.

The Chair in Jewish Studies will play a key role in building on the University’s outstanding reputation in theology and religious studies, focusing on the Jewish contribution to human civilisation, ancient and modern.

Nottingham alumnus and award-winning journalist Jeff Randall has spearheaded fundraising efforts for the new chair, and as a result the University is well on the way to a target of £1.5m in philanthropic donations to underpin the endowment. Mr Randall’s work is also helping to fund a postgraduate scholarship and other research posts around the new position.

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Professor Agata Bielik-Robson, who has an international reputation in the field, has been appointed to the new post in the University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies. Professor Bielik-Robson has joined Nottingham from Warsaw where she lectured for the past few years. Before that she spent time at Yale University in New Haven and the University of Chicago.

Professor Bielik-Robson is due to give her inaugural lecture, entitled ‘Is there such a thing as Jewish Philosophy?’, at the Arts Centre Lecture Theatre, 5.30pm on May 9 2011.

Also joining the department is Dr Holger Zellentin, who has studied religion in Strasbourg, Amsterdam, Jerusalem, Philadelphia and Princeton; and taught Rabbinics and Late Antique Judaism at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and at the Graduate Theological Union. Dr Zellentin joins Nottingham from the University of California, Berkeley.

Professor Bielik-Robson said: “Our general idea is to make Jewish Studies open to Jews and non-Jews alike, ie. to people of all backgrounds who would be interested in Jewish culture, religion and thought.

“Holger and I understand Judaism not as an isolated phenomenon but as a complex formation which had always been in dialogue with surrounding cultures and traditions. Holger studies ancient Judaism in all its facets ranging from the Hellenistic to the Rabbinic world, with the special emphasis on rabbis’s relation to Greek and Christian thought.

“My research concentrates on the interplay of mutual influences between Western philosophy and modern Jewish thought, from Spinoza to Derrida. I am particularly interested in the unique way in which modern Jewish thought redefines the relation between Athens and Jerusalem, thus creating a new intellectual quality. My inaugural lecture will be devoted precisely to that question.”

Mr Randall, a graduate of Nottingham, has strong links to the institution. He said: “I told the Vice-Chancellor that if there was anything I could ever do for this place, then he should give me a call.”

When the call came, it was with a request that Mr Randall approach his network to establish a new chair for the University, in a subject that exists in only a handful of other institutions.

“It was a chair in Jewish Studies, and having done a little research on the subject, it occurred to me that this was a unique opportunity,” said Mr Randall. “An anonymous donor has given £300,000 and there have been generous contributions from other leading members of the Jewish community.

“The contribution of British Jewry is there for all to see. It’s a community that’s punched above its weight for more than 200 years. If you are interested in the make-up of modern Britain, why wouldn’t you be interested in the Jewish community?”

The Department of Theology and Religious Studies is ranked amongst the UK’s leading theology schools and is dedicated to the study of a number of religious traditions, their founding scriptures and history, the debates that continue to shape them, and their interactions with each other, with politics, economics, philosophy and literature.

Nottingham is particularly strong in the area of Christian theology and has a long-standing commitment to the study of Islam; it also has considerable strength in the study of both ancient and modern Judaism. By establishing an endowed Chair in Jewish Studies, the University aims to capitalise on current strengths and raise the profile of Jewish Studies nationally and internationally.

Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Nottingham, said: “Just as the contemporary global political context calls for a better understanding of the history and heritage of Islam, it also calls for a better understanding of the history and heritage of Judaism. We believe this new Chair in Jewish Studies will make a significant contribution that understanding.

“I am extremely grateful for the hard work of Nottingham alumnus Jeff Randall, and for the generosity of many donors who have made the creation of this chair possible.”

The chair will focus on the Jewish contribution to human civilisation in philosophy and religious thought, in social and intellectual history, in music, literature and fine arts. It will also contribute to interdisciplinary work in the wider University, specifically in relation to Philosophy, History, English, Politics and International Relations, Classics and Modern Languages.

— Ends —

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

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More information is available from Professor Agata Bielik-Robson, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Nottingham,
Tim Utton

Tim Utton - Deputy Director of Communications

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