2015-04-15 / Home

Well-known American Judaism expert is longtime Rowan professor

Although Rowan University has never had a full-blown Jewish studies program, it has been the home of serious Jewish scholarship for several decades.

That is largely due to the presence of Dianne Ashton, a religious studies professor well known for her pioneering work on Judaism in America as well as Jewish women’s spirituality. An expert on Philadelphia educator Rebecca Gratz, her latest of five books, “Hanukkah in America: A History,” relates how the Hanukkah story has transformed from a minor festival celebrated for thousands of years in a low key manor to a full-blown holiday that has become a cultural marker of American Jewish life.

She made history in 2011 as the first woman editor of “American Jewish History” in the publication’s 118-year history.

While Ashton is a wealth of knowledge about American Jewish history, her course offerings at Rowan have never dealt exclusively in Jewish content. “World Religions” is among her most popular courses. She also teaches a senior seminar on “America Studies” as well as “Religion in America.”

Hired by then Glassboro State College shortly after completing her dissertation on Gratz at Temple University, she said she has never seriously considered going anywhere else, even where Jewish studies is front and center.

“My husband is a Philly boy,” she explained. “We really like living in this area.”

Besides, she said, the changes at Rowan could very well lead to more Jewish-focused coursework. The university will soon be offering a concentration in Jewish studies for the first time, combining elements of the religious studies, sociology and history departments.

“As more Jewish students started showing up in my classes, I decided to go for it,” she said. “It’s approved and it starts next fall.” (JJF) 

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