Yesterday, on the second day of the month of Sivan in the year 5776 (July 2, 2016), on a Sabbath, Elie Wiesel passed away in his Manhattan home. He was 87 years old. He is survived by his wife Marion, his son Elisha, a step-daughter, and two grandchildren. As colleagues and students of Elie Wiesel who taught at Boston University from 1976 until 2013, we are deeply saddened by his passing. We are also humbled by these many years of his regular presence on campus, his teaching and his friendship. This is a great loss for Boston University and the greater Boston area, where many felt they had a special connection to the author, speaker, and “witness to humanity” that he was.
The fact of his passing was transported around the world almost instantaneously, and one can read about his life and work in the many obituaries that have begun to appear. The world remembers him as a Holocaust survivor who felt compelled to bear witness and did so in exemplary ways. As Joseph Berger writes in the New York Times, Elie Wiesel filled a void; his memoire Night, appeared at a time when trauma and survivor’s guilt plagued the victims and denial silenced the perpetrators. As Michael Berenbaum notes in the Forward, Elie’s literary voice helped to transform victims into witnesses and allowed the children of perpretrators to confront the past.
With international recognition came visibility and greater responsibility. As a Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel spoke out for Soviet Jewry and used his visibility to draw public attention to atrocities and human rights violations on every continent.
Elie Wiesel joined BU in 1976 where he served as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy and Religion. He retired from this position in 2013, a year after after the death of BU president John Silber, who had brought him to BU. Elie gave his last public annual lectures in the fall of 2012, shortly after Silber’s death. During his time at BU, Elie Wiesel taught every fall, two courses on Literature and Memory. Only once in thirty five years of teaching did he teach a course on the Holocaust and he disliked it so much, he never tried again. Elie’s long-time assistant Martha Hauptman was the one who fielded student applications and vetted the teaching assistants. Taking a course with Elie Wiesel was the highlight of many students’ experience at Boston University. Students described their experience in his classroom in essays that were published in 2014 by the Elie Wiesel Center under the title Take a Teacher, Make a Friend: Students Write for Elie Wiesel. The contributors to this volume include a German Catholic theologian, a computer engineer and his daughter, a rabbi and a classics professor, a poet and a cantor, a professor of medicine and a speech pathologist, a professor of Italian literature and another rabbi, a theater director and a medievalist, a professor of constitutional law and a singer, a physicist/science editor and a thanatologist, a self-declared groupie and a scholar of Hasidism, two doctoral students (one from China) and another historian. This range speaks for itself.
At Boston University, Professor Wiesel held faculty positions in Religion and Philosophy and he lectured to the CAS Core Curriculum. But it is the title of Professor in the Humanities that indicates what his teaching was about. When the late John Silber brought Elie Wiesel to BU, he brought not just a prolific author but an eminently humane voice to Boston, to teach us and the wider community something about the humanities that required the special qualifications that he saw in Elie Wiesel.
Part of this legacy at BU is the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies. The fact that it exists is a testament to the friendship between Elie Wiesel and John Silber, who had been Boston University’s president for only five years when he persuaded Elie to join. Their friendship not only brought Wiesel to Boston, but kept him here for all these years, and it finally persuaded him to link his name indelibly with the University. Our task now is to live up to Elie’s legacy and follow his example of an existential commitment of the teacher to bearing witness, to bring to life the joy of Jewish text and tradition, and to make sure we remember the Holocaust, to speak for victims everywhere and don’t allow ourselves to be silenced. We are proud and humbled to have known Elie Wiesel as a colleague and friend. May his memory be for a blessing!
Director, The Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies
Purohit studies the history of Islam, focusing on conceptions of religion in modern Islam and the impact of colonialism on modern Muslim intellectual thought. Her first book, The Aga Khan Case: Religion and Identity in Colonial India (Harvard University Press, 2012), was critically acclaimed. An expert in Sanskrit and Urdu, she is currently working on a second book, Making Islam Modern.
The Department of Religion welcomes our new Chinese Religions scholar, April Hughes. Hughes received her Ph.D. from Princeton University and has been an assistant professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane since 2014. Her research interests include early Chinese Buddhism and apocalyptic themes in Chinese religion. She will begin offering courses in Asian religions this fall.
Religious studies can keep secularism alive in India
Updated: Apr 24, 2016 11:21 IST
Recently Oxford University’s Faculty of Theology and Religion caused something of a sensation when it was reported that its undergraduate students would not have to study Christianity. As often happens in this sort of situation, on reading the small print, it transpired that students would have to study Christianity in their first year but not thereafter. Nevertheless, this decision demonstrates how far religious teaching at Oxford is prepared to stray from its roots in the Church of England in order to keep up with the times. A member of the faculty said, “We want to offer to potential students what is interesting for them and that has changed a lot in the last 30 years.” read more……
I just returned from London, where I participated in a seminar convened by Lord Stone of Blackheath on a two-year old grassroots peace initiative for Israel and Palestine called Two States, One Homeland (TSOH). You can find a longer report on this meeting HERE. In addition to the two founders of this initiative, Tel Aviv-based Israeli journalist Meron Rappoport and Bethlehem-based Palestinian activist Awni al-Mashni who joined via Skype, there were about forty people in the Archbishop’s room at Millbank House, which houses offices and meeting spaces serving the UK House of Lords. Participants included potential funders, facilitators, foundation directors, and specialists in a variety of aspects that the convener thought would be useful and ought to be drawn on in helping the initiative to move forward more robustly. I joined this session because I had met Meron, Awni and Avner Haramati, a social entrepreneur who facilitated the London meeting, before. (I wrote about this meeting HERE.) Read more…….
Caroline Walker Bynum
Holy Beds and Holy Families: Encounters with Devotional Objects in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Boston University Department of Religion Annual Lecture and the Program in Scripture and the Arts are proud to present Caroline Walker Bynum, from the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. Professor Bynum is a preeminent scholar in the field of Medieval Christian Studies, and her work has been instrumental in introducing the concept of gender into the study of medieval Christianity. In her lecture, on March 24, 2016 at 5:30 PM, she will present material thematically linked to her most recent publication, Christian Materiality. At an exhibit in Detroit fifty-five years ago, a much loved beguine cradle on loan from New York’s Metropolitan Museum was treated simply as a piece of furniture. But at the Met, the cradle, which once held a Christ child laid in it by the religious women in whose community it stood, points the viewer toward other works related to the holy family, all on display nearby but not usually considered together. Interpreting these devotional objects in their social and devotional context, Professor Bynum will argue that medieval images—both literary and material—evoked, even compelled, a far more complex, nuanced, and even contradictory sense of the holy than much recent work on materiality suggests.
BU Bookstore Presents: Dr. Stephen Prothero
Stephen Prothero is a professor in the Boston University Department of Religion, and he is the New York Times Bestselling author of Religious Literacy: What Americans Need to Know (2007). He has contributed to publications such as USA Today, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. His newest book, Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (January 2016), Dr. Prothero concludes that not only do liberals always win in heated culture wars within the context of social history, but today’s disputes between differing cultural and political parties are not unprecedented. Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars is a work outlining the social history of the United States and describes how competing religious beliefs have always impacted our political, economic, and sociological discourse. Please join us for a book signing and discussion.
7:00pm on Tuesday, February 9th 2016
Barnes & Noble at Boston University, 660 Beacon St. (5th Floor – The Reading Room)
Stephen Prothero’s Gift of Hope to Liberals
New book shows why they “win the culture wars”
On February 3, President Obama spoke at the Islamic Society of Baltimore to recognize the contributions of Muslim Americans to their country, to speak out for religious liberty, and to condemn hateful rhetoric against Muslims.
He also made a passing reference to Prof. Stephen Prothero’s recent work on the culture wars. In a classic Obama aside, the president said, “By the way, Thomas Jefferson’s opponents tried to stir things up by suggesting he was a Muslim–so I am not the first.” After some laughter he went on, “No, it’s true, it’s true. Look it up. I’m in good company.”
The president and his speechwriters almost certainly got this factoid from an op-ed Prothero wrote for the Washington Post a few days before the speech.
“Claims that President Obama is a closet Muslim are not novel, either,” Prothero wrote in the Post. “In the nasty election of 1800, now being staged in the Broadway hit “Hamilton,” Thomas Jefferson’s Federalist opponents accused him of believing in “the alcoran.”
In a CNN op-ed published the day before the speech, Prothero again referred to this incident: “During the rough-and-tumble election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson was accused of being a secret Muslim. ‘No one knows,’ wrote the Connecticut Courant, ‘whether Mr. Jefferson believes in the heathen mythology or in the alcoran (Quran).”
The president also referred to other themes in Prothero’s new book, Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections), including the fraught history of anti-Mormonism and anti-Catholicism here.
The full text of the president’s speech is here.