Q & A with Dr. Claudia Setzer

November 1, 2017




Sitting down with Dr. Claudia Setzer, the professor discussed topics such as her background, educational courses, research, and much more. Below lies some interesting facts and responses to questions that were curated by the Religious Studies Department Chair, Dr. Robert Geraci and Jack Melanson, student assistant. 


Q. How do you feel you bring your background and past experiences to the classroom setting? How does your personal history enhance your ability to teach students? 


A. Like a lot of people, I grew up with religion taught to me simply as something to follow and believe. I rebelled against that. It wasn't till I got to college that I discovered I could actually use my brain and my critical thinking to look at religion. The intellectual life allowed me to back into religious practice and community again. I think we all as mature adults have to re-think and re-claim religion or personal philosophy for ourselves.


Since I live a Jewish lifestyle and belong to two Jewish communities, I feel I bring the tradition of wrestling with texts and asking questions to the classroom.


I've lived in Israel and England, and am taking students to Rome this winter. Travel allows us to look back on our lives from a distance and think about what matters. 


What, in general, inspired you to become a teacher at the college level? 


 When I was in college, it seemed that my professors led the most interesting and fulfilling lives. They traveled, spent time in other countries, talked about big ideas, debated with colleagues, read and experienced culture. It seemed a strangely glamorous and fulfilling life. And now that I live it, I have to say, it is.



Q. What is your favorite course to teach and why? 


Q. I have several favorites. I love teaching Judaism, considering its many forms in medieval Spain, in early modern Europe, and its flourishing in the U.S. I like bringing foods like challah when we learn about the Sabbath, or little hamentaschen cookies for Purim. 


I also love my Bible courses, as I have lived with these narratives for years and love to see students discover them and use different methods to unpack them.                    



Q. Why do you feel the topics that you teach are important for students to learn? 


A. Students should be conversant with the Bible to understand our culture and government, the preciousness of the First Amendment, the part the Bible played in the founding of the country, arguments over slavery and women's rights, civil rights, and more. Today's polarized culture is in part over who understands the role of religion in culture. 

It's more important to me that students learn to read critically and thoughtfully than anything else. I also hope they enjoy the rich and human quality of many of the texts.


Q. How has your scholarly research changed you and your teaching? 


A. It has kept me on my toes. Scholarly ideas change, and I hope I am not trotting out the same ideas as I did when I started. Things always arise in class that relate to my work. Right now I am writing about progressive movements and the Bible, and students are surprised to hear that abolitionists and suffragists saw the Bible as their ally. Of course the other side used it, too.



Q. What separates Manhattan College from other higher education institutions? 


A. This is a place where we can talk about religion freely. It balances the commitment to tradition with openness to other traditions, what Prof. Krister Stendahl called "holy envy," appreciation of elements of other peoples' traditions. Although I do not open classes with prayers, and wouldn't, I often think that the Brothers' prayer, "Let us remember we are in the holy presence of God," is just like the plaque called the shiviti that appears on the wall in many synagogues, which refers to a line in the Psalms,  "The image of God is constantly before me." There is a congeniality here in so many areas. A college campus is like nothing else, a place of conversations about ideas, coffee in the student union, young people full of promise, wonderful colleagues to team with. There is no place I would rather be.



Q. When you're not at work, where do you like to be and what do you like doing?


A. I love the city, and all it has to offer--theater, restaurants, music. I lived in London for a year, and always miss it, too. My big thing is English Country Dancing, and I also make quilts. My children live in Austin and L. A., so I fly around the country to visit them.

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