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Remembering Cantor Charles Davidson (z”l)  

JTS mourns the passing of Cantor Charles Davidson, a revered composer, cantor, JTS alum, and H. L. Miller Cantorial School professor. One of the earliest graduates of JTS’s Cantors Institute, he later earned his doctorate in sacred music and then went on to serve on the faculty as the Nathan Cummings Professor.

Read more about Cantor Davidson’s life and reflections from those that knew him.

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Union’s 2023 Impact Report – Union Theological Seminary

Dear Friends,
I am pleased to share with you the 2023 Impact Report for Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. It’s a first for us. While we are constantly communicating with our many stakeholders, we do not have a tradition of creating a single, comprehensive, public facing annual update. As a step towards improving our work and pursuing best practices in theological education, we have created this report! Great thanks go to the many people at Union who worked on this report and to those who appear in it. I hope you enjoy what you find in these pages – the stories are phenomenal but even more, the people that comprise Union are just downright amazing to behold!
As you will see in the pages ahead, Union is filled with vitality and vision as it continues to uphold its historic mission while also forging ahead, reaching toward ever-expanding horizons for the practice of theological education. This year’s Impact Report is organized around our present Strategic Plan, the central goal of which is to support and strengthen the Union of today so that 50 years from now, students will still be walking through our doors, zooming onto our screens, and joining the work of the Seminary via whatever new forms of communication and education await us in the future.
I am happy to say that Union has been making great strides towards creating foundations for that lively future. You will read about our extensive campus renovations, our new degree programs, our emerging platforms for public education, our incredible fundraising successes, and most importantly, the brilliance and passion of the students who continue to show up, seeking the unique education we offer. In a world where the horizons of many seminaries are constricting, Union is thriving as it reaches further and further out to communities and people who seek the fruits of theological study and formation. We know, as do you, that the education we offer here – justice-seeking, love-embracing, world-transforming, faith-inspiring – has never been so urgently needed.
Ahead, we share the incredible work of our amazing faculty, staff, students, and alums, all pulling together in the same exciting direction. We also share the incredible leadership journeys of some of our alums.
We have organized the report around the central pillars of Union’s Strategic Plan which I share here with you.

Shaping 21st Century Religious Scholarship
Innovation in Theological Education
Recruiting, Retaining, and Supporting Students
Cultivating Intentional Community
Reimagining Faith in the Public Square
Ensuring Union’s Future: Cultivating Partnerships
Ensuring Union’s Future: Campus Renewal & Climate Responsibility
Ensuring Union’s Future: Development & Alum Relations
Ensuring Union’s Future: Financial Sustainability

On behalf of the whole Union community – which reaches far and wide – I am happy to say thank you for your witness and your faithful labor in our broken and struggling yet resilient world. We remain committed to you and to keeping Union a place Where Faith and Scholarship Meet to Reimagine the Work of Justice. May it do so for many generations to come!
I hope you enjoy reading this inaugural issue of Union’s 2023 Impact Report!
Serene Jones
Johnston Family Professor for Religion and Democracy
Click Here to Read the 2023 Impact Report
The post Union’s 2023 Impact Report appeared first on Union Theological Seminary.
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A Book Profiles an 18th-Century Indigenous Leader Still Revered Today

How was Occom able to rise to such a level of fame in his time? What was so singular about him?

Occom was brought up in a community that valued strangers. Interacting with people from outside the community was a way of acknowledging the world’s sacredness. In my book, I discuss how this helps explain why Occom excelled at talking to so many different kinds of people: This ability was a deeply rooted cultural competence.

I also suspect that Occom was hugely charismatic. In the 1760s, he did a preaching tour in England. If you look at the Samson Occom Papers at the Connecticut Historical Society, you can read fan letters in which English people write about the power of his preaching, and how overwhelmed they were by his sheer physical presence. Of course, Occom’s celebrity was overdetermined in some sense. After all, he was the first Indigenous person to be ordained as a Protestant minister. For 18th-century evangelicals, this had biblical significance. A few of them described Occom’s ministry as a turning point in world history.

Was there anything you learned during the research and writing of this book that surprised you, or was unexpected?

I know a lot about Samson Occom now. As much as I can know, or almost. But I also learned, from talking to members of his communities, that there are people who know and value Occom in a way I never will: Those who know him as an ancestor, or as an illustrious leader of their nation. The experience of sharing what I know with Occom’s communities, and also hearing from them about their knowledge (even if I’ll never know Occom as intimately) has been powerful and rewarding. It’s also given me a clearer sense of what scholarship can and can’t do.

Are there any classic works of fiction or nonfiction that you only read recently for the first time?

So many! The Poverty of Theory, a collection of essays, by E.P. Thompson. Legalism: Law, Morals, and Political Trials by Judith Shklar. The 12th-century philosophical novel, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān (The Improvement of Human Reason), by Ibn Ṭufayl. The last of these I read because it’s on the syllabus for the Core Curriculum class, Contemporary Civilization, which I teach. My students love the book, and so do I.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Travel in the Ancient World by Lionel Casson, who wrote several books reconstructing everyday life throughout the ancient Mediterranean. From what I can tell, his evidence consisted primarily of paintings on Greco-Roman pottery housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Based on his observation of these ceramics, Casson developed passionately defended theories about what it was like to live in antiquity. (He was a sort of anti-Keatsian in this respect.) I find all of his books enjoyable, even if they’re not 100% accurate.

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

My partner, Lina, and I read The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole at a formative stage; I’m not sure what that says about our relationship, but we are very close. I don’t think I could be friends with anyone who couldn’t find a way to love Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady. I’ve also occasionally accosted—or wrote to—writers whose books I admire. Philosophy Professor Akeel Bilgrami is an example. Connecting with people through their writing is an under-recognized privilege of being a scholar.

You’re hosting a dinner party. Which three scholars or writers, dead or alive, would you invite, and why?

Well, first of all, Samson Occom. But if he can’t make it:

Geoffrey Chaucer. He’d be a zealous eater, and a great listener. He could also let me know if my Middle English pronunciation is any good. I love reciting the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales.

Baruch Spinoza. The most creative and committed philosopher I know of, who made friends with many different kinds of people.

Lord Byron. I suspect he’d be a little overbearing during dinner, but I’d like to have him around later in the evening.

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