Ben-Ur, Aviva

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Professor, Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies
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Jewish Studies
Near Eastern Languages and Societies
Jewish History
Aviva Ben-Ur is a historian and Professor in the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with adjunct status in the Department of History and the Programs of Spanish and Portuguese, and Comparative Literature. Her areas of scholarly specialization include Atlantic Jewish History, Sephardi Studies, Slavery Studies, and the modern Ottoman diaspora.
She is the author of Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History (New York University Press, 2009) and, with Rachel Frankel, Remnant Stones: The Jewish Cemeteries of Suriname: Epitaphs (Hebrew Union College Press, 2009), and Remnant Stones: The Jewish Cemeteries and Synagogues of Suriname: Essays (Hebrew Union College Press, 2012). Her current book, Jewish Autonomy in a Slave Society: Suriname in the Atlantic World, 1651-1825, is forthcoming in 2020 with The University of Pennsylvania Press.
Professor Ben-Ur teaches "Jewish Food in Historical Perspective" (Judaic 327); "Mediterranean Mosaic: Ancient Civilizations, Then and Now" (Judaic 328); "Sustainability in Comparative Religious Context" (Judaic 326); "Jewish History Through Biography" (Judaic 313); "American Diversity" (Judaic 322); "Jewish Utopia/Dystopia" (Judaic 323);"Slavery in Comparative Religious Perspective" (Judaic 324); "Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Medieval World" (Judaic 325); "Sustainability in Comparative Religious Perspective" (Judaic 326); "American Jewish Diversity" (Judaic 343); "Sephardic Literatures and Cultures of the Spanish Diaspora" (Judaic 353); "Jewish Travelers and Travel Liars: Exploration and Imagination, Medieval to Modern Times" (Judaic 373); "The Jewish Experience in America" (Judaic 375); and "The Jewish People II: Medieval to Modern Times" (Judaic 102), one of the semesterly gateway courses for Judaic Studies majors and minors.

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  • Publication
    Sustainability in Comparative Religious Perspective
    (2020-01-01) Ben-Ur, Aviva
    This course explores how various cultures through time and space have interacted with the natural environment in an effort to achieve material, spiritual, and medical wellbeing. We will closely examine sustainability as reflected in a variety of spiritual traditions (from “animism” to Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, polytheism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), and in societies or in social phenomena not necessarily driven by any “religious” system (such as hunter-gatherers, nomads, socialist and communist kibbutzim or Sirius, an intentional community and eco-village in Shutesbury, Massachusetts). The current “greening” philosophy spreading across the U.S.A. and globally has created a campus-wide (and 5-College-wide) thirst for courses related to sustainability, permaculture, organic gardening, and environmentalism. None of these wonderful initiatives or courses, however, examines the idea of Sustainability in a comparative historical and religious context. This course helps to fill an intellectual gap in the curriculum and also offers students an opportunity to consider Sustainability as an age-old human preoccupation. Among the questions we will explore are: What is human wellbeing and how has its definition changed according to time and place? How was the concern for human wellbeing connected to concern for other entities, such as animals or the earth as a whole? Was there a gap between law and actual practice? How successful or detrimental were sustainability efforts? How did these efforts differently 2 impact the various sectors of a given society? To what extent does the modern Sustainability movement show awareness of religious traditions and history? Does the movement’s principle preoccupation with techniques and science make room for the historic orientation of religious traditions to the natural environment? In other words, is the modern Sustainability movement compatible with today’s spiritual traditions? For each theme we will ask: What is the role of “religion” and is religion” a useful category of analysis for the topic under consideration? The motto of this course is: “One foot in the past, one foot in the present.” Most Sustainability concerns have to do with the present day. A significant portion of the course, therefore, invites students to bring contemporary themes into the classroom, discuss them, and endeavor to place them in historical context. For example, in the week spent discussing deserts in historical context, we will also consider the significance of today’s deserts for Sustainability, e.g. the potential of the desert as a model for biomimicry.