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College of Arts and Sciences Newsroom

Building Bridges Across Faiths

The University of Dayton will expand its religious studies offerings this fall with the arrival of a teaching fellow from Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the nation's oldest institution of Jewish higher education.

The University and College-Institute have launched a partnership to establish the endowed Ruslander/Friedland fellowship at HUC-JIR’s Pines School of Graduate Studies.

Both institutions raised funds over the past several years and reached the $500,000 goal that allows them to launch the fellowship.

The fellowship is named in memory of Rabbi Selwyn Ruslander and in honor of Eric Friedland, who both dedicated their lives to building bridges of understanding between the Jewish and Christian communities in Dayton.

The agreement calls for the Ruslander/Friedland fellow to teach one Jewish studies course each semester at the University of Dayton. In addition, the director of the College-Institute’s Pines School or another faculty member will deliver a lecture each year at the University that will be open to the public.

The first Ruslander/Friedland fellow, Andrew Higginbotham, will teach Introduction to Judaism this fall at the University. He plans to survey the major periods of Jewish history, starting soon after the biblical period and culminating in the modern era.

The Ruslander/Friedland fellow also will contribute to the development and expansion of Jewish studies courses, with the aim of possibly creating a Jewish studies minor at the University in the future, said Dan Thompson, associate professor and chair of the department of religious studies.

Higginbotham is a College-Institute doctoral student from Columbia, South Carolina. In May, he received his master’s degree in Hebraic and Cognate studies from HUC-JIR.

"The agreement between the University of Dayton and HUC-JIR makes it possible for me to learn how to teach a class in my field, and will also give me valuable professional experience in teaching that class," he said.

Founded in 1875, HUC-JIR is the oldest Jewish seminary in the Americas and the main seminary for training rabbis, cantors, educators and communal workers in Reform Judaism. The College-Institute has campuses in Cincinnati, New York City, Los Angeles and Jerusalem.

Rabbi Jonathan Cohen, dean of the College-Institute's Cincinnati campus, announced the fellowship in May during a graduation reception attended by a University of Dayton delegation.

"This new fellowship reflects the deepening collaboration between our institutions, and the importance we attach to the teaching of Judaism and its history and literature in our region’s leading academic institutions, and especially in interfaith settings," Cohen said.

The University will formally recognize the partnership with HUC-JIR this fall, said Jason Pierce, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Pierce said the academic collaboration connects to the University’s Catholic and Marianist educational philosophy, which promotes respect for other faith traditions.

"UD’s core curriculum calls out the importance of students developing deep understanding and critical inquiry of major faith traditions," he said. "We see particular value in our students learning more about interfaith collaboration and dialogue, both of which have a rich history in Dayton and Cincinnati, and we are grateful for the donor support at both institutions that make this fellowship possible."

In addition to Higginbotham, the department of religious studies will welcome a new faculty member this fall to strengthen its offerings in Jewish studies. Dustin Atlas, assistant professor of religious studies, will teach in the College of Arts and Sciences’ interdisciplinary Core program, which stresses the connections among academic disciplines. Atlas will also begin working with the department’s faculty to offer new and revised courses in Jewish studies in the near future, Thompson said.

Friedland, one of the fellowship’s namesakes, was appointed Sanders Chair in Judaic studies in 1968. He taught two courses per year at the University of Dayton, Wright State University, Antioch College and United Theological Seminary until his retirement in 1998.

Ruslander served as rabbi of Temple Israel in Dayton from 1947 until his death in 1969.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

Pictured above (L to R): Jason Pierce, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Andrew Higgenbotham, incoming Ruslander/Friedland fellow; and James Brothers, senior director of development and principal gifts, University Advancement.

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