Jewish studies departments at universities around the country are split on whether to accept money from the Posen Foundation, a fund that offers them substantial grants—but only for courses on secular Jewry. British energy magnate Felix Posen started the fund six years ago because, he told the Jewish Week, he believes that academic departments give secular Jewish history and culture (that is, the lives and work of a subset of Jews over roughly the past 400 years) short shrift. But is it proper for universities to accept money with such strings attached? Jewish studies heads at schools including Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and New York University say it is not, and are declining to apply for Posen grants, which offer up to $50,000 a year. “They’re not interested in just studying a certain field, they’re advocating one,” Yale’s department chair told the paper. But other prominent universities including Brandeis and the New School joined Harvard, Brown, and other institutions this year in accepting Posen money. The foundation does have an independent academic advisory board that approves the grants, supporters at these schools say. But, more awkwardly, schools also have to take what they can get in this economic climate, said some academics who’d accepted a grant. As a professor at Brandeis put it, a debate over the Posen fund that had been going on for several years among his colleagues was effectively resolved by practical concerns: “It would be naïve to think that the economic motive was not central.”
Jewish Studies Sans Religion? [Jewish Week]
Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.