Miriam Dean-Otting joined the faculty in 1984. In addition to RLST 101 and 103: Women and Religion, she teaches courses in Jewish Studies, including The Judaic Tradition, Modern Judaism, Jews in Literature and occasionally The Holocaust. She teaches Religion and Nature and lectures in ENVS 112 annually. She also teaches a course on the Hebrew scriptures and a topical course called Prophecy. She offers classical Hebrew as an independent study.
Her research interests lie in the intersections between Jews and the non-Jewish cultures in which Jews have made their home. Her publications have focused on Hellenistic Jewry, Jews in Germany and Central Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and in conflict resolution and dialogue between Jews and Arabs in modern Israel. She has engaged in a study of the Jewish community of Calcutta (Kolkata), India.
1983 — Doctor of Philosophy from Hebrew Union College, OH
1974 — Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College
Because the Environmental Studies Concentration has no faculty of its own, the nature of an individual study will necessarily vary dramatically depending on the home discipline of the faculty member guiding the course. Details regarding the expected number of contact hours per week, workload, and assessment will be left to the discretion of the faculty member guiding the individual study. There are no formal restrictions on who can pursue an individual study in environmental studies. Individual studies are not intended to replace an elective course in fulfilling the requirements of the Environmental Studies Concentration.
This course presents an interdisciplinary inquiry into the destruction of European Jewry during World War II. How was it that in the 20th century, in the midst of civilized Europe, a policy of genocide was formulated and systematically implemented? We will examine the Holocaust within the contexts of modern European history, Nazi ideology and practice, the Jewish experience in Europe, the history of anti-Semitism, and the psychology of human behavior. Data will be drawn from films, literature, art, memoirs, theology, and historical investigations. An ongoing concern of the course will be the significance of the Holocaust in political discourse and in our own thinking as individuals. When a faculty member from religious studies, modern languages and literatures (German) or history is teaching the course, students may count it toward majors in history, modern languages and literatures (German) or religious studies. Paired with another religious studies course, it will fulfill the diversification requirement in the humanities.
The format of this course is lecture and discussion. The usual enrollment in each section is 20 to 25 students. The course includes brief introductions to four or five major religious traditions, while exploring concepts and categories used in the study of religion, such as sacredness, myth, ritual, religious experience and social dimensions of religion. Traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism and Native American traditions are presented through their classic scriptures and traditional practices. Readings vary among sections but typically include important primary sources on Hindu thought and practice (e.g., the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-gita), Buddhist thought and practice (The Questions of King Milinda, The Heart Sutra), Jewish life and thought (selections from the Hebrew Bible, The Sayings of the Fathers), Christian origins (one or more Gospels, selected Pauline letters), Islam (selections from the Qur'an and Sufi mystical poetry), Confucianism (the Analects), Taoism (the Tao Te Ching) and modern expressions of religion (e.g., Martin Buber's I and Thou). Many of the primary sources are studied in conjunction with relevant secondary sources (e.g., Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy, important articles by anthropologists of religion). The Department of Religious Studies emphasizes writing, and several essays are assigned in this course. The course is open to all students. Offered fall and spring.
This course presents an introduction to the study of religion, focusing particularly on women. A variety of religious traditions will be explored as we look into myths, rituals and practices particular to women. Traditions to be explored may include Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and some Native American religions. Students will have a hand in shaping the syllabus in the last third of the semester, with the expectation that individual interests can be accommodated. Open only to first-year students.
For over two millennia Judaism has expressed itself through continual interpretation and reinterpretation of its fundamental teachings. With a particular focus on the mystical strand in Judaism, this course will address the central beliefs and practices of Judaism (e.g., monotheism, covenant, commandments, the Sabbath and holy days) through study of its rich textual and ritual traditions. Developments in Jewish life and thought will be traced through a variety of literature: the Bible (Torah, prophets, Psalms and the Five Scrolls); rabbinic texts (Mishnah, Talmud and midrash); poetry (Jehuda ha Levi's "Songs of Zion"); medieval philosophy (Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed); and the mystical strand embodied in the Zohar. Students will gain an appreciation for the origins of Jewish teachings that remain vital in the tradition today.
What is the Jewish Enlightenment (the Haskalah)? What was Jewish life, thought and practice before 1750 and what has been carried into the 21st century? This course will briefly trace ideas and practices of Jews and Judaism before the 20th century and the development of modernist movements within the tradition. Focusing on the 20th and 21st centuries, these topics will guide our study: gender, the role of women, relationships with non-Jews, social justice, environment and sustainability, diaspora and Israel, what it means to be a secular Jew and more.
The purpose of this course is to study the culture, history and religious practices of the Jewish people through literature. Although Jews are known as "the people of the book" and have had a rich literary history since ancient times, the emergence of Jews as characters in nonreligious literature is a comparatively modern phenomenon. Nevertheless, many writers, Jewish and non-Jewish, have created narratives that revolve around Jews and Judaism. We will begin by studying a few works by non-Jewish authors. We will then quickly turn to the work of Jewish writers (originally written in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian or English) in order to carefully track themes of Jewish life in a variety of literatures from a number of Jewish cultures (European, American, Israeli and South African). Prior knowledge of Jews and Judaism is not required.
A working knowledge of biblical literature is valuable both for a deeper understanding of three major traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), and for comprehension of the many biblical allusions encountered in western culture’s fiction, poetry and essays. The course provides an opportunity for careful reading of the various genres found in the Bible (myth, short story, novella, poetry,prophecy, wisdom literature). Students will also have occasion to read a selection of short fiction or poetry influenced by biblical literature. RLST 310 is open to students of all levels including first- years, and it is recommended for students passionate about literature. It is counted as a foundation course in Religious Studies.
This seminar offers an examination of some aspects of the vast and complex Jewish nationalist movement, Zionism. Encounters between Jews, Palestinians and Arabs will serve as a thematic current throughout our study. Resources include primary and secondary sources, poetry, fiction, photographs, film and music. An array of voices from the 19th and early 20th centuries will serve to demonstrate the discontent and alienation that led to the development of Zionism in Europe. We will then consider Jewish writers who expressed caution and concern, anticipating barriers to peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs even decades before the dream of a Jewish state became reality in 1948. Today Jews and Palestinians continue to grapple with many unresolved issues, and we will turn our attention to their voices in the last five weeks of the semester. Prerequisite: permission of instructor.
Prophets were the messengers of justice and social responsibility in antiquity. This course poses the question: Are there contemporary prophets? We will first focus on the origins of prophecy in the Ancient Near East before exploring a number of contemporary writers. Max Weber, Victor Turner, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Cornel West and Martin Buber will provide theoretical perspectives. We will examine the role of biblical prophets (Amos, Isaiah, Micah and others) and the prophetic roles of Jesus and Muhammad. Topics addressed will include, but are not limited to: poverty, civil rights, inequities in American education, healthy communities, and responsible environmental practices. We will fully integrate our academic study with our engagement in the community. In the last two-thirds of the semester we will study a selection of modern voices on current social issues. Possibilities include but are not limited to: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, bell hooks, Jonathan Kozol, Wendell Berry, Arundhati Roy, Bob Marley, June Jordan and Aharon Shabtai. Topics addressed will include, but are not limited to: poverty, civil rights, inequities in American education, healthy communities, and responsible environmental practices. This class incorporates Community Engaged Learning as an integral part of the course. Students will get course credit for volunteering in Knox County institutions in various areas (e.g., food security, health, education, and parks and recreation). We will fully integrate our academic study with our engagement in the community. Prerequisite: sophomore standing.\n
This course is designed as a capstone experience in religious studies for majors in the department. The theme of the seminar will vary according to the instructor. Past themes have included religious autobiography, religion and cinema and new religious movements. The course is required for, but not limited to, senior religious studies majors. Religious studies minors are encouraged to enroll, provided there is space. Non-majors should consult the instructor for permission to register for the course.
The department reserves individual studies to highly motivated students who are judged responsible and capable enough to work independently. Such courses might entail original research, but usually they are reading-oriented, allowing students to explore in depth topics that interest them or that supplement aspects of the major. Normally, students may pursue individual study only if they have taken all the courses offered by the department in that particular area of the curriculum. An individual study course cannot duplicate a course or topic being concurrently offered. Exceptions to this rule are at the discretion of the instructor and department chair.\nTo enroll, a student must seek permission of the instructor and department chair, ideally during the semester before the individual study is to take place. The instructor and student agree on the nature of the work expected (e.g., several short papers, one long paper, an in-depth project, a public presentation, a lengthy general outline and annotated bibliography). The level should be advanced, with work on a par with a 300- or 400-level course. The student and instructor should meet on a regular basis, with the schedule to be determined by the instructor in consultation with the student. Individual studies may be taken for .5 or .25 unit, at the discretion of the instructor. Prerequisite: GPA of at least 3.0. Exceptions (e.g., for languages not regularly taught at Kenyon) are granted at the discretion of the instructor, with the approval of the department chair.
"Assimilation and Teshuvah in Two Generations of Czech Jewish Women: Berta Fanta and Else Fanta Bergmann," inForging Modern Jewish Identities: Public Faces and Private Struggles, Michael Berkowitz, Susan Tananbaum and Sam Bloom, eds. (Vallentine-Mitchell, 2003)
"Rootlessness and Alienation in the Poetry of Helen Degen Cohen" Shofar (Fall, 2002)
Guest Editor, "Spotlight on Teaching the Holocaust," Religious Studies News (November, 2000)
"Spontaneity in Teaching: Incorporating Current Vatican Publications on the Jews into a Course on Modern Judaism,"Shofar (Summer 1999)