Posted on October 26, 2010 at 8:07 am

Religion Department reveals interesting insight into Boston University

by Carolyn Yeager


BU’s Dept. of Religion is extremely over-weighted with Jewish faculty and Judaism courses.

Elie Wiesel, as the Mellon Professor in the Humanities at BU, teaches in both the Depts. of Philosophy and of Religion. Both departments are contained in the College of Arts and Sciences, headed by Virginia Sapiro.

I took a look at the Dept. of Religion after a student at BU informed me in a helpful manner that our Elie Wiesel Cons The World Boston University Project page was wrong in stating that Prof. Wiesel was not teaching any courses during the fall 2010 semester. This student referred me to the Dept. of Religion course offerings which are online and which show Elie Wiesel as the instructor of two undergraduate courses for this current semester. [I have corrected our page.]

The fall semester continues until December and the year-end break. Wiesel is teaching two courses especially designed for him [or by him]: Literature of Memory 1 and Literature of Memory 2. What is interesting about these courses is that they cover solely Wiesel’s own writings.

Lit of Memory 1 “examines the development of Elie Wiesel as a novelist from a selection of his fictional works. Particular attention is paid to the books’ structures, themes, and moral lessons. (It) provides an opportunity to study these works with the author himself.”

Lit of Memory 2 “explores Elie Wiesel’s non-fiction writing. Using his memoirs, Biblical interpretations, and reflections on prominent Hasidic masters, we seek to better comprehend the ethical voice in his work. (It) provides the opportunity to explore these issues with Professor Wiesel himself.”

It is obviously considered a special advantage for BU students to study at the master’s feet. I would certainly like to listen in on one of the class sessions myself! The Spring 2011 course offerings for the Dept. of Religion show no classes taught by Elie Wiesel. Perhaps he will be teaching a course for the Philosophy Dept. in the spring. As of this writing, they are not yet online.

In the BU Dept. of Religion I was amazed to find a large percentage of course offerings devoted solely to Judaism and Jewish culture. I would not have been surprised to find there were more than for any other religion, but the proportion was so wildly unequal one wonders how they get away with it. Here is the breakdown for the current semester. [Note: please see my reply to Dove in the Comments section below (11-13 at 8:55 a.m.) re a more complete listing of Religion Dept. courses for Fall and Spring, 2010-11, which you can find here. I’m not going to redo the article at this time because the ratio of Jewish courses to Christian and others remains essentially the same.]

Fall 2010 offers 24 lower and upper level courses, all 4 credit hrs

8 courses are solely about Judaism and Jews

  1. Elie Wiesel, Lit. of Memory 1 [his own fictional writings]
  2. Elie Wiesel, Lit of Memory 2  [his own non-fiction writings]
  3. Introduction to Rabbinic Literature
  4. Jewish Mystical Movements and Modernization
  5. American Jewish Experiences
  6. The Modern Jew
  7. The Holocaust
  8. Holocaust Literature and Film

1 course about Judaism and Christianity [Apocalyptic Lit in Early Judaism and Christianity]

1 course solely about Christianity [Gender in Medieval Christianity]

2 courses solely about Islam

1.  Islamic Law

2.  Islamic Theology/Philosophy

1 course about Daoism

1 course about Zen-Buddhism

1 course about Culture, Society and Religion in South Asia

9 courses on Religion—Non-Specific

This is an astonishing 36% about Jews and their culture/religion as opposed to about 25% for all non-Jewish religions combined, and around 39% for non-specific religion topics. And this is not in any way an exceptional semester, considering the same proportion appears in the spring semester.

Spring 2011 [click on “Courses” under Academics] offers 17 lower and upper level courses, all 4 credit hrs

6 courses solely about Judaism and Jews

  1. History of Judaism
  2. Classical Jewish Thought
  3. Gender and Judaism
  4. The Holocaust
  5. Jewish Bioethics
  6. Topics in Judaic Studies: The Zionist Idea

2 courses solely about Christianity

  1. Varieties of Early Christianity
  2. Theology of Christian Mysticism

1 course on Islam

1 course on Buddhism

3 courses on Religion & Literature from around the world

4 courses on Religion-Non-specific

Here again we see 35% solely about Judaism; about 24% on Christianity, Islam and Buddhism combined; 41% for non-specific religious topics. This seems to be the formula. What does it tell us about BU?

Has Boston University become a Jewish institution?

As we note on our Boston University page, according to and Reform Judaism Magazine [via Wikipedia; NOTE: the Wiki BU page has been revamped since July and all mention of Hillel House removed], “Boston University … has the second highest number of Jews of any private school [after New York University] in the country with between 3,000 and 4,000 [out of approx. 30,000], or roughly 15% identifying as Jewish.” It is also, according to the latest figures available, approximately “68% white, 15% Asian, 7% international students, 7% Hispanic, and 2% black.” While 15% Jewish is a high number in a country where the total Jewish population is no more than 2 to 2½%—it doesn’t begin to reach to the 35% average of Judaism courses offered by the BU Dept. of Religion.

First we might ask: Why is the Jewish student population at BU so high? One reason is the location in Boston, Mass. and surrounding states like New York and New Jersey, which have a higher than average Jewish population. Another is the culture that has developed there. Again, as we stated on our Boston University page, the school was historically affiliated with the United Methodist Church, but lost its Christian identity somewhere along the way and now describes itself as nonsectarian. However, considering its student body, and its faculty and administrative personnel, not to mention the Board of Trustees, it could very easily—and perhaps more correctly—be identified as a predominately Jewish institution.

When we look at the administrative faculty positions in the Department of Philosophy, we can’t help but notice the abundance of Jewish names. Nine out of 29 professors [31%] are unmistakably Jewish, and others could very likely be. In the Department of Religion, of 31 professors listed, eleven are unmistakably Jewish [35%] and some others are likely Jewish. The Jewish professors teach the Jewish courses, so the percentages fit together.

I’m not going to look into BU in its entirety because I am not on a hunt to discover how many Jews are employed there [although I may be accused of that]. What I am after is to discover whether BU has a Jewish culture and political base, and it appears that it does. The more “Jewish” Boston University becomes, the more Jewish students are attracted to attend this university. And so it builds on itself. I can tell you that if you’re going to major in Religion, you’re going to get a heavy dose of Judaism.

And Holocaust, too. Along with Elie Wiesel as a celebrated professor there, I’d like to acquaint you with Prof. Steven T. Katz , who is Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at Boston University,  and holds the Alvin J. and Shirley Slater Chair in Jewish and Holocaust Studies in the Dept. of Religion. [I didn’t know there was an Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at BU until I read Dr. Katz’ bio. I will have more to say about that in another blogpost.] Katz was also Chair of the Academic Committee of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum [in Wash. D.C.] for five years. He still serves on that committee, and is also Chair of the Holocaust Commission of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. Not surprisingly, he’s teaching the course “The Holocaust” jointly with the prolific Professor Hillel Levine. Katz is no doubt too busy to do more, as he is also one of the American representatives to the International Task Force on the Holocaust, established by the King of Sweden, now sponsored by the European Union.

Holocaust as part of the Religion curriculum at BU

 It is left to us to figure out why BU is offering courses on The Holocaust in the Department of Religion, rather than in History. Strangely, when I look at the course offerings in the Dept. of History, the word “Holocaust” does not appear once. A course titled World War II: Causes, Course, Consequences is offered in the Spring 2011 semester. That is the only mention of WWII in all the course offerings for both semesters [not to mean it is not touched on in some other courses].

However, there are several courses about Israel and Jews for general students and history majors. Among the undergraduate courses for Fall 2010, there is Jews in the Modern World, Topics in the History of Israel, and Topics in Jewish History. For the Spring 2011 semester, I find The History of Israel: An Introduction, Topics in Jewish History, and The Making of the Modern Middle East [this one taught by Jewish professor David Fromkin]. This is more than it might look considering the entire spectrum of world history of all cultures that needs to be covered in a Dept. of History.  Israel is a tiny state and Jews make up a tiny percentage of the world’s population, yet at BU they are given an inordinate amount of attention.

Is the Holocaust, as it is understood by most professors, an historical event or a religious event, according to Boston University? First let me say that the fact of the History Department remaining aloof from the Holocaust is not surprising at all. Real historians—trained scholars—stay away from the Holocaust because actual evidence for it is weak. It is based on war-time and post-war propaganda; witness testimonies by the alleged victim-survivors; photographs and confessions, many of which have been demonstrated to be fake; and poorly-explained happenings. Yet it is politically verboten to question it; therefore the answer for historians is simply to not teach, write or talk about it, but only to give it lip-service.

However, for Elie Wiesel [and those who surround him], the Holocaust is the mainstay of his entire career. Wiesel treats the Holocaust as a religion, complete with prophecies and forerunners, saints and heroes, highly embellished but un-provable narratives [including his own], and miracles given as explanation for that which can’t be explained otherwise. One of Wiesel’s continuing themes is that the Holocaust cannot be described, nor can it be understood by those who were not there.

Thus, it is in the interests of Professors Wiesel, Katz, Levine, and other Jewish proponents of “The Holocaust” to keep it in the Dept. of Religion. And this is where we find it. ~


NOTE (Oct. 27):  On Monday night, Oct. 25, Elie Wiesel, as a Prof. of Religion at BU, gave the first of three lectures on Old Testament biblical themes  to a reported 1000 students and faculty at Metcalf Hall on the BU campus.

The lecture was titled “In the Bible: A Judge Named Deborah,” about a female judge and prophetess of “Israel” who led a successful campaign against the Canaanites, the seemingly eternal enemies of “Israel” throughout the bible. The story is found in the book of Judges.

According to The Daily Free Press student newspaper,  “Wiesel then spoke about Yael, the woman who killed the leader of the Canaanite army by hammering a peg through his head (!), and went on to argue that women played essential roles in the Bible, starting with Eve. […] ‘All the time, women were actually those who made decisions,’ Wiesel said, citing the importance of Ruth, Esther and Rahab in the Bible.”

Most of these biblical stories have been shown by modern archaeologists and biblical scholars to be fictional embellishments designed to hold the Jewish people together as a religious community.  This lecture series is under the auspices of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies at BU.

What is of greatest interest to us here at EWCTW is the final paragraphs of the article published in the Daily Free Press:

BU President Emeritus John Silber, who introduced Wiesel, emphasized the importance of Wiesel’s memoir, “Night,” which recounts his experience in the Nazi prison camps.

“In ‘Night’ [Wiesel] reveals the full horror of the Holocaust as an inscrutable evil,” Silber said. “‘Night’ has made millions of young students aware of this tragedy in which all standards of civilization were abandoned.” [see Wiesel’s description of Yael’s tactic of “hammering a peg through her enemy’s head” above -cy]

Silber said since Wiesel’s first lecture 34 years ago, the author has “made it his primary concern to arouse the consciousness of mankind to the realities of the Holocaust.”

Audience members said they were excited about seeing Wiesel at BU.

“I think that Elie Wiesel is a huge character and very, very inspirational to not just the Jewish people but also the whole world,” said College of Arts and Science [Jewish] freshman Ben Fishman.

“Elie is a faculty member who stands out, his name stands out on the paper when you see him on your schedule so when you have that opportunity it’s an opportunity you can’t pass up,” said School of Management freshman Albert Tawil. “That’s why BU takes pride in having him here.”

The second and third lectures in the series are scheduled for Nov. 1 and Nov. 8 at Metcalf Hall. Please see my blog on Opportunities for Activism here.

14 Comments to Religion Department reveals interesting insight into Boston University

  1. by Jett Rucker

    On November 2, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Except for having the “big draw” property of Elie Wiesel, BU is probably little different from other institutions of higher learning in the US, particularly in areas of greater concentrations of Jews in the population.

    Reasons for this are well-known, and to at least some extent justify the situation (not that the reasons themselves are necessarily just): Jews are overrepresented among college students, college graduates, college professors and administrators and, in particular, among donors, where their financial “weight” exceeds even their numbers.

    A review of this kind of other American institutions would be most interesting. I suspect concentrations would be found in institutions of law, medicine, and social sciences, and be lacking in institutions concentrating on engineering, mining, and agriculture.


  2. by Carolyn

    On November 5, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Jett, Have you overlooked the fact of six courses on Judaism to one course on Christianity in the Dept. of Religion? Do you think this is normal in a university of 15% Jewish students? I would like to hear how you justify this.

    And even if it were 50% Jewish, would that justify a program of Religious Studies with such an over-emphasis on Judaism and it’s culture/history/current issues, etc, etc, etc? Thanks.


  3. by Gasan

    On November 2, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    This is just brilliant.
    “In ‘Night’ [Wiesel] reveals the full horror of the Holocaust as an inscrutable evil,” Silber said. “‘Night’ has made millions of young students aware of this tragedy in which all standards of civilization were abandoned.” [see Wiesel’s description of Yael’s tactic of “hammering a peg through her enemy’s head” above -cy]
    Tell me about double standards again.


  4. by Dove

    On November 11, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    You have your courses wrong for both Spring 2011 and Fall 2010. you did not include
    CAS RN309
    Theology and Piety in Catholic Christianity
    CAS RN202
    From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of Christianity
    CAS RN101
    The Bible

    These are just 3 courses you did not list for fall 2010
    there are over 30 courses in the Religion department for fall 2010. And more than 17 for the spring 2011 semester (I did not count though). I think you may be looking at the wrong website. BU.EDU/RELIGION. the link you gave on your website appears to only be for graduate students.
    The Religion Department at BU allows students majoring in religion to either take a generalized program of study… here let me just copy and paste from the website:
    “Concentrators may elect either 1) a general program of study that ensures broad exposure to at least three areas of specialization, or 2) a specialized program that ensures expertise in one particular area of specialization. Students in the general program are required to take at least two courses in each of three chosen areas of specialization (as indicated below). Students in the specialized program are required to take at least five courses in their area of specialization; in addition, they must take four courses outside their chosen area: CAS RN 495 and three other courses. Areas of specialization are Christian studies, comparative philosophy of religion, East Asian studies, Islamic studies, Judaic studies, religion in America, religion and culture, and South Asian studies.”

    Therefore you are wrong in saying “I can tell you that if you’re going to major in Religion, you’re going to get a heavy dose of Judaism.” BU does not force any one who wants to major in religion to take a Judaic Studies class. Meaning, if you take the general study program route you can focus on 3 areas of specialization out of the 8 (so you can easily chose to not study anything Jewish). Or if you decide to specialize in a topic than you must take 2 courses outside of your specialization – also meaning you DO NOT have to take a Judaic studies class.


  5. by Carolyn

    On November 13, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Hello Dove. Thank you for reading the website and bringing new and/or corrected information to it. The Religion Dept. pages I linked to are still online, but I think the one you recommended at is updated, and therefore a better one. It’s here:

    You are right, 34 Fall 2010 courses are listed on this page, and 32 Spring 2011 courses. However, the overwhelming number of courses on Judaism remains the same. Fall 2010: Eight (8) courses strictly on Judaism and/or Holocaust; three (3) courses strictly on Christianity. Spring 2011 is exactly the same: 8 Jewish, 3 Christian. One of these Spring courses is titled “Primo Levi within Holocaust Literature!” If this is a religion course, then “the Holocaust” is definitely considered a religion by the BU Dept. of Religion. There are several courses on Holocaust.

    This exceeding high number of Judaism courses seems very odd to me at a university that must have far more Christian than Jewish students. What is the reason for this, do you think?

    In addition, some of the general courses, such as about Tolerance or The Bible for example, will probably rely on mostly Jewish themes and sources. What you copied about ‘concentrations’ doesn’t make much difference, in my opinion. I didn’t say anyone was forced to take a course on Judaism, but when there are so many more to choose from, more of them will be chosen. You are more than welcome to respond.


  6. by Dove

    On November 11, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    correction: “Or if you decide to specialize in a topic than you must take 2 courses outside of your specialization – also meaning you DO NOT have to take a Judaic studies class.” I meant to say 3 courses, not 2.


  7. by Dove

    On November 11, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Also, Prof. Katz also teaches another class in the fall semester. Just another small correction to your post. Not that is of great importance, but you did state “no doubt too busy to do more” so just thought I would let you know. I feel if you are going to post a blog about a specific department at a university you should make sure you read thoroughly the entire website for that department. This is nothing against you, but it does appear to be a good idea to me.


  8. by Carolyn

    On November 13, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Yes, you are right again. In the newer, updated listing of Religion courses, Katz is also teaching “Judaism” in the current semester. So that makes two courses for this very busy man, with all his extra-curricular Holocaust conferences to attend and influence. Katz, of course, is also the director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies on BU campus. Can you tell me if students can take classes there for regular credit, or is it a totally separate institution?

    I am going to write about the EWCforJS eventually, so I’ll find out even if you don’t tell me.

    Regards, and again, thanks for checking my information carefully. I appreciate it.


  9. by dove

    On November 13, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Yes, I am well aware of Prof. Katz exploits as he is my advisor, as well as my professor. And no it is not a separate institution, any student can take a class on the Jewish religion – it is just an entity of the Religion Department, as the buildings are even connected to one another.
    And I do not know the reason for the number of “Jewish” classes compared to the number of “Christian” classes, but I do not see a problem with this… I find it odd that you do, but oh well opinions are opinions and you of course are welcome to have one. Maybe if you were lucky enough to get to study at BU you would see how great the Religion department actually is, and how much they focus on topics outside of Judaism from what we discuss in class to the many free lectures on campus or off that the department advertises for its students, but because you can not see it for yourself, you don’t seem to believe it — a major excuse many people use.

    I really must stop wasting my time with your website, it has become too much of a disappointment. Thank you for spending time in replying.



  10. by Carolyn

    On November 13, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Dear Dove,

    So the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies is a part of the Religion Dept. at BU. That’s interesting. I wonder why there aren’t specially funded Centers for Christian Studies or for Islamic Studies at Universities? There are departments, of course … but I haven’t heard of too many Depts. of Christian Studies. In fact, I’ve never seen that anywhere! But there are Depts. of Judaic Studies in almost every university now. Your link to Vanderbilt University shows a good example of such a department. You don’t wonder about that?

    And you don’t see a problem with 8 Judaism courses to 3 Christianity courses, semester after semester? I think most non-Jewish people would see a problem with that. They would find it odd, anyway, as I do.

    There’s one more question I’d like to ask you. I know that there were three free lectures on religion recently, all given by Prof. Elie Wiesel, sponsored by his Center for Judaic Studies. I read about them in the Daily Free Press, your campus newspaper. What other free lectures on religion topics were available to the students recently?


  11. by Spencer

    On December 14, 2010 at 7:51 pm


    You say “you haven’t heard of too many Depts. of Christian Studies. In fact, I’ve never seen that anywhere!”

    Well, if you weren’t a simpleton, which you most obviously are, you would realize that Theology programs are heavily bent towards christian and European studies. Religious/Theological studies are the defacto name for Christian studies. I’ll use “JewU” as an example:

    BU has quite a few courses on Christianity, many more than 3. If you actually cared about the truth rather than you’re delusional ideology you would’ve known that. But alas, what should I expect.

    Additionally, the number of institutions in the US that have Christian affiliations is at-least ten times as large as Jewish institutions. Do I have a problem with this? No, not at all.

    It’s ridiculous to compare the number of courses a school has for each religion and then make completely baseless and overgeneralized statements – which is exactly what you are doing.

    Let me assure you that the students of BU will continue to receive a fine education in Jewish studies, Holocaust studies, Theological studies, and in every other discipline that this institution offers. Your website is a nice respite for me in the midst of Exam week.


    Spencer Bonaventura
    BU Class of ’14


  12. by Carolyn

    On December 16, 2010 at 11:32 am


    Thanks for writing. Your argument is not supported by the evidence. It is you who are making “baseless and over-generalized statements.” For instance:

    You link to the page in question and say it “has quite a few courses on Christianity, many more than 3.” But I was comparing courses that are strictly about Christianity and strictly about Judaism. All others besides those three that include Christianity also include Judaism and, in some cases, other religions too. So, looking at it honestly and accurately, Judaism and Jewish-related issues get more attention that Christian. Here is the count:

    For the current Fall 2010 semester—12 courses are specifically about or include Judaism, 7 courses are specifically about or include Christianity. In addition, of those twelve, 3 courses are about the Holocaust. This brings up the question, should the Holocaust be taught as a religious subject along with acknowledged world religions? Is it a religion? If so, who are its adherents, its leaders, and where are its places of worship?

    If you are sharp, you will tell me that the Holocaust is not a religion, but a legitimate religious question. But in that case, where is the attention on all the other legitimate holocausts and moral crimes, such as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki , and the carpet-and-fire-bombing of Tokyo and German cities and civilians in 1945. There are of course many other “holocausts” I could mention, even the current one taking place in Gaza in Palestine.

    For the upcoming Spring 2011 semester—11 courses are specifically about or include Judaism, 8 courses are specifically about or include Christianity. Of those eleven, 2 are about the Holocaust. Same questions apply.

    This is disconcerting as Christians greatly outnumber Jews in our society. You say, “the number of institutions in the US that have Christian affiliations is at-least ten times as large as Jewish institutions.” Taking your ten-to-one at face value, this would be understandable and appropriate because, according to the Pew Research survey,, 78.4% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, while only 1.7% identify as Jewish.

    According to your reasoning, Christianity needs to be balanced out with equal or greater study of Judaism, since you claim that “Theology programs are heavily bent towards christian and European studies. Religious/Theological studies are the defacto name for Christian studies.” I don’t think you can demonstrate this; certainly not in recent times. It’s not the case at the two schools I have looked at: Boston Univ. and Chapman Univ. in Orange, California. [See But if it were the case, it would be supported by the reality that this is still a Christian society—as in, over three/quarters of the population identify as Christian. I wonder how that 1.7% of Jews became so dominant? Do you have any answers to that? And why is it necessary that we learn so much about them? I’d like some real answers, rather than irrelevant put-downs and name-calling.



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