For Those Seeking a “Deeper Knowledge of Judaism”: A Brief Conversation with Adam Kirsch
It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Adam Kirsch’s work. So when I heard about Adam’s new position at Columbia University, I was intrigued. And when Adam told me that he was trying to spread the word about Columbia’s M.A. in Jewish Studies, I offered to “host” him here.
Adam Kirsch is director of the master’s program in Jewish Studies at Columbia University. A poet and critic, he writes a regular column for Tablet Magazine and contributes to many other publications, including The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. His new book of poems, “Emblems of the Passing World,” will be published in November.
Please welcome Adam Kirsch.
Erika Dreifus (ED): Please tell us a bit about the history of this program, its self-described “new home” at the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia University, and your role within it.
Adam Kirsch (AK): In the past Columbia offered a number of “Liberal Arts” M.A. programs through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Recently these programs were reassigned to individual departments, and the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies had the chance to take charge of the M.A. in Jewish Studies. I’m the new full-time coordinator for the program, responsible for running the M.A. track and spreading the word about it to new audiences.
ED: You’ve told me that this program can take one to two years, and that it’s designed for students at any stage of their careers. Does this mean that options are available for part-time study? Are classes offered in the evenings?
AK: It’s possible to register for as little as one class per semester; the full program requires about 9 courses (the exact number depends on course credits) and writing an M.A. thesis on a topic of the student’s choice. Most students try to finish the program in two years, which involves taking 2-3 courses per semester. Most classes meet during the day, but the time is up to individual instructors.
ED: You’ve also mentioned to me that you’re hoping to draw to the program people who are interested in writing and/or teaching. This makes me think of the many opportunities for graduate study in creative writing that integrate specific cultural/ethnic perspectives (examples here, here, and here). In what similar way(s) might this M.A. Program in Jewish Studies be of interest to writers? Might a student, for instance, be able to submit a “creative” thesis?
AK: It seemed to me that there are many Jewish writers who are hungry for a deeper knowledge of Judaism–its history, literature, beliefs. The M.A. program is the perfect opportunity to get that kind of education–it’s designed to expose students to several different areas of Jewish Studies, so you can really discover your passion, whether it’s Yiddish literature or Israeli culture or Second Temple-era Judaism. There’s no creative track for the thesis, but it’s certainly possible to write about literature or the arts–just recently we had a student submit a wonderful thesis on the composer Arnold Schoenberg. The knowledge a Jewish writer gains from this experience would shape and inform their work for a lifetime.
ED: What are some of the highlights of the program’s calendar for the following year?
AK: We’ve just begun our fall semester programming, which includes events sponsored by the M.A. program: On November 17, there will be a discussion on “Is Feminism Jewish?”, with Katha Pollitt, Vivian Gornick and Michelle Goldberg; and on December 9, Robert Alter will speak about translating ancient and modern Hebrew literature.
You can learn more about this program by visiting its website.