To Elevate the Discourse

To Elevate the Discourse

A headshot photo of Glenn Dynner, PhD.

Glenn Dynner, PhD, stands in front of “Holy City,” an interfaith painting by international artist Brian Whelan that was exhibited in recognition of the ongoing war in the Holy Land at the Barone Campus Center through this past February.

Dr. Glenn Dynner Leads the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies.

We need dialogue and scholarship to get beyond the trivialization and echo chamber of social media.

— Glenn Dynner, PhD

When Glenn Dynner, PhD, arrived at Fairfield in September 2022 to succeed Ellen M. Umansky, PhD, as the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor of Judaic Studies and the director of the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, he brought with him a high regard for the University.

Back in February 2016, while chair of the Religion Department at Sarah Lawrence College, he’d been invited by the Bennett Center to present a talk at Fairfield based on his acclaimed book, Yankel’s Tavern: Jews, Liquor & Life in the Kingdom of Poland.

“That was such a nice experience,” recalled Dr. Dynner, who kept Fairfield University on his radar and said that “when I saw the opportunity to be part of a unique situation where a Jesuit school — with a largely Catholic student body — serves as a bridge with the wider Fairfield County Jewish community, I was ready.”

Another dimension of the Fairfield academic experience that Dr. Dynner found attractive was the University’s commitment to the study of religion, and religious thought and traditions, as part of a broad liberal arts foundation.

Fairfield has a religious studies requirement for all undergraduates, regardless of major. “They must take two courses in religion, and that means some students with curiosity will take Judaic studies classes,” he said. “The ones who do that will be the ones who stand up in the future against antisemitism.”

While he also admires the Jesuit educational model for its emphasis on social activism, Dr. Dynner thinks the seriousness with which Fairfield takes religious studies is equally important.

“That is, the University takes religion seriously and without apology,” he said. “This is relevant today and is needed more than ever because of the lack of moral clarity on many campuses, which I see as a failing ofthe humanities.”

In the time he has been here, Dr. Dynner has taught “Modern Jewish Literature” and “History of Jewish Mysticism,” and he plans to teach a course called “Zionism and its Critics” in the fall.

He has also discovered a way to connect his roles as a religion professor and Bennett Center director. “I bring my students to the events at the Bennett Center,” he said. “I look at it as just a different form of learning.”

The turmoil of world events this past year — in Israel, Gaza, and Ukraine, and on American college campuses — is never far from Dr. Dynner’s mind as he contemplates the future direction of the Bennett Center. Founded in 1994, its stated mission is “to foster continued learning experiences and campus-wide awareness about Jewish history, ethical values, and religious observances,” as well as “to engage the Greater Fairfield communities.” Through the center, Fairfield University continues to be committed to building a bridge of understanding between the Jewish and Jesuit traditions.

“We can’t merely be reactive in our programming,” he said. “Our role is not to advocate for Israel but to elevate discourse. We do the harder work of challenging reigning interpretations, such as the false binary that has been set up of oppressor versus oppressed. That’s why I want to continue pushing the scholarly approach going forward.”

That said, Dr. Dynner has been pleased by the fortuitous timing of the Bennett Center’s fall and spring schedules. In the fall of 2023, the center presented lectures by Dara Horn, PhD, Susannah Heschel, PhD, Charles Dellheim, PhD, and Art Spiegelman.

“We’ve sought to bring these kinds of scholarly choices to campus,” he said. “We collaborated on events related to the Arthur Szyk exhibition, including the sold-out Art Spiegelman talk [on Oct. 17]. In November, we had [Dartmouth Judaic Studies professor] Susannah Heschel talk about a need for dialogue in the wake of the October 7 attack on Israel.”

He also cited last year’s timely visit by Yale history professor Marci Shore, PhD, whose lecture was titled, “I Need Ammunition, Not a Lift: Jews and the Ukrainian Question.” Through such programming, Dr. Dynner hopes to encourage students to voice their concerns about issues and news events that trouble them.

“Israel is not above criticism, but we need more than just buzzwords,” he said. “We need dialogue and scholarship to get beyond the trivialization and echo chamber of social media.”

A highlight of this semester’s Bennett Center schedule was the Joan and Henry Katz Lecture in Judaic Studies on March 14, presented by the world-renowned Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder, PhD. The title of Dr. Snyder’s lecture was also the title of his bestselling book: On Tyranny: Propaganda, Politics, Persuasion, which has provided many Americans with an invaluable wake-up call in the current geopolitical climate.

On March 6, Dr. Dynner led a book launch for his own just-published book, The Light of Learning: The Hasidic Revival in Poland on the Eve of the Holocaust (Oxford University Press), at Stamford’s Congregation Agutath Sholom.

The Bennett Center will team up with Fairfield’s Center for Catholic Studies on March 20 to co-sponsor the 18th Annual Lecture in Jewish/Christian Engagement, “Ancient Judaism between Christian Memory and Jewish Forgetting,” presented by Annette Yoshiko Reed, PhD, of Harvard Divinity School.

The annual Holocaust Memorial Program is scheduled for April 18 in the Barone Campus Center, and on May 6 at Alumni House, Samuel Kassow, PhD, will deliver the evening lecture, “Journalists in Hell: Reportage in the Lodz and Warsaw Ghettos.”

Over the years, the Judaic Studies program has received requests from adult learners in the non-University community to audit classes. “As an alternative to that, we’ve implemented a Lunch and Learn program in collaboration with the Jewish Federation of Fairfield County,” said Dr. Dynner. “This spring, our Lunch and Learn class will be titled ‘Jews and Modern Art’.”

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