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
The purpose of the course is to introduce students to the principles of sustainable agriculture through hands-on experience on local farms and through readings of current literature. The course thus combines fieldwork and seminar-style discussion. Work on the farm will be varied, determined by the seasons and farm projects under way. In addition, students may be taken to the local Producers Livestock Auction and other off-farm sites as the time and season allow. Students can expect to handle and feed animals, clean barns, harvest and plant crops, prepare farm products for market, build and repair fences, bale hay and work with, repair or clean equipment and buildings. Readings will be drawn from relevant books, current environmental literature and the news media. Discussions will be student-led and combine readings and their experiences in the field. Also, students must have available in their academic schedule four continuous hours one day per week to spend working at a local organic farm (travel time will be in addition to these four hours). In addition, students will participate in a weekly seminar discussion of assigned readings, lasting from an hour and a half to two hours. Participation is limited to eight to 10 students and permission of instructor is required. Preference will be given to juniors and seniors. Completion of ENVS 112 is highly recommended. No prerequisite. Offered every fall.
Because environmental studies is a broad interdisciplinary field, the nature of an individual study will necessarily vary 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 may, upon consultation with an environmental studies co-chair, serve as an elective course in fulfilling the requirements for environmental studies, up to 0.5 units. To enroll in an individual study, a student must identify a member of the ENVS faculty willing to mentor the project and, in consultation with him or her, the student must draft a syllabus, including readings, schedule and assignments, which must be approved by a co-chair of the program. At a minimum, it is expected that the student meet regularly with his or her instructor, at least once per week or the equivalent, at the discretion of the instructor. At a minimum, the amount of work submitted for a grade in an IS should approximate that required, on average, for courses of equivalent units in the home department of the faculty mentor. In the case of a group individual study, a single course syllabus may be submitted, assuming that all group members will follow the same syllabus. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study preferably the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval before the registrar’s deadline.
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, it counts toward the history, German or religious studies majors.
The format of this course is lecture and discussion. 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). This counts toward the core course requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every semester.
This course presents an introduction to the study of religion, using the lens of gender and sexuality as a category of analysis. Students will examine constructions of the body, sexuality/celibacy, control and agency of marginalized persons, issues of fertility and purity, and gender performativity. A variety of religious traditions will be explored as well as feminist and gender/sexuality theorists. Open only to first-year students, with the possibility of second-year students with permission of the instructor. This counts toward the core course requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course introduces the process by which Judaism became a religious tradition, particularly in the late ancient and medieval world. This period marked the rise of rabbis as an authoritative source of Jewish knowledge, tasked with updating biblical laws for their contemporary communities following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E.. This course will explain how rabbis created the major features of present-day Judaism, such as holidays, kosher and Sabbath laws, gender roles, charity/tzedakah, liturgy, and Jewish identity, at the same time as creating their own power and authority. Attention will be paid to Jewish debates, Jewish-Christian discourses, Jews as post-colonial subjects within historically contextual empires, and the ways ordinary Jews navigated rabbinic and non-Jewish power. By the end of this course, students will have a sense of how "traditional Judaism" was created. No prior knowledge of Hebrew or Judaism is necessary. This counts as a Judaism foundation course for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
This course introduces the changes in Judaism and Jewish life wrought by the advent of modernity and the Jewish Enlightenment (the Haskalah). We will first discuss developments in modern Jewish thought and the ways Jewish movements (such as Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructing and Renewal Judaism) interacted with the classical Jewish tradition. The latter half of the class will examine the tensions and challenges to Judaism as a normative category in modernity, including intermarriage, conversion, the South American/African/Chinese Jewish diaspora, “cultural” Jews, Chrismukkah, Israeli politics and secularism. Throughout the semester, we will ask: what does it take to be a Jew? What are the relationships between power, tradition, and non-Jewish culture that shape modern Jewish practice? Will Judaism survive modernity? This counts toward the Judaism requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
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. This counts toward the Judaism requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two years.
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. This counts toward an elective for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every two or three years.
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. This counts as an elective for the major. Permission of instructor required. No prerequisite. Offered every two or three years.
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. 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, for example, food security, health, education, or parks and recreation. We will fully integrate our academic study with our engagement in the community. This counts as an elective for the major. Prerequisite: sophomore standing. Offered every two years.
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. Religious studies minors are encouraged to enroll, provided there is space. Non-majors should consult the instructor for permission to register. This counts toward the core course requirement for the major. Offered every fall.
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. 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. Students must secure the agreement of an instructor to provide guidance and supervision of the course. 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 0.25 or 0.5 units, at the discretion of the instructor. A maximum of 0.50 units of IS may count towards major or minor requirements in RLST department. A student is permitted to take only one 0.5-unit class of IS in the department (one 0.5-unit course or two 0.25-unit courses). A student must present a petition with compelling reasons in order to obtain special permission to take an additional IS course. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study preferably the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval before the established deadline. Prerequisite: GPA of at least 3.0. Exceptions (e.g., languages not taught at Kenyon are granted at the discretion of the instructor, with the approval of the department chair.)\n
"Assimilation and Teshuvah in Two Generations of Czech Jewish Women: Berta Fanta and Else Fanta Bergmann," in Forging 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)