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Syllabuzz: REL379 - Jewish-Christian Dialogue

Professors Geoffrey Claussen and Jeffrey C. Pugh challenge students to consider historical and normative questions.

Jeffrey C. Pugh and Geoffrey Claussen

By Eric Townsend

One holds a deep interest in the way Christians and Jews interact. The other has spent much of his career researching Christian complicity in the Holocaust. Together, they created a course that explores the evolution of the relationship between adherents of both belief systems.

In Jewish-Christian Dialogue, offered for the first time in fall 2013, professors Geoffrey Claussen and Jeffrey C. Pugh challenge students to consider historical and normative questions. What led the earliest followers of Jesus to separate from the Jewish community? How did the Holocaust change both faith traditions? And do Christians and Jews have common ground on which to discuss issues at the heart of their traditions? These topics and more are central to understanding the relationship between Jews and Christians in the 21st century. For much of the past two millennia, a mutual hatred characterized that relationship, stemming from the early Christian community’s attempts to separate itself from its Jewish origins by blaming Jews for Jesus’ death.

The turning point in their interaction was Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Most German Christians, if not directly supportive of Hitler’s genocide of the Jews based partly on Martin Luther’s words, turned a blind eye to unspeakable horrors against their neighbors. Guilt and shame among Christians of all stripes soon redefined the once-virulent connection. “Most people are simply unaware of the deep and abiding responsibility that Christianity has [in the Holocaust],” Pugh says. “The historical record is important, and it’s a record that has been glossed over.”

Yet Claussen and Pugh want their students to be just as forward thinking as they are knowledgeable of the past. Their hope is that students “construct a potential path for the future” of Jewish and Christian relations, considering the shared values and histories of the two faith traditions. They also hope their course helps facilitate discussions outside of the classroom. “Some students have told us about deepened conversations with friends and roommates who come from other religious traditions,” Claussen says. “We’re thrilled that our students have been able to bring many other members of the Elon community into the sorts of conversations that we’ve been having during the semester.”

About the professors

Geoffrey Claussen is the Lori and Eric Sklut Emerging Scholar in Jewish Studies. Since joining Elon in 2011, he has led courses covering the whole history of the Jewish tradition, from the Hebrew Bible to contemporary Judaism. Jeffrey C. Pugh, Maude Sharpe Powell Professor of Religious Studies, came to Elon in 1986. The author of five books, Pugh has taught courses on Christian traditions, God and politics, and religion in a global context.

Recommended reading

  • The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus by Amy Jill Levine
  • Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust by Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel, eds.
  • Christianity in Jewish Terms by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, David Sandmel, and Michael Signer, eds.
Keren Rivas,
11/3/2015 1:45 PM