Laura Yares

yareslau@msu.edu

728 Wells Hall

FacultyReligious StudiesJewish Studies

Assistant Professor
Judaism; Religion in North America; Religion and Non-Profits; Jewish Education

ORCID: 0000-0001-8711-1069

Biography

Laura Yares is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Michigan State University, with a joint appointment in the MSU Program for Jewish Studies. Her research and teaching focuses on Jews and Judaism in modernity, with particular interests in Jewish education. 

She is the author of the forthcoming book How Jewish Education Became Religious, a historical analysis of the development of Jewish Sunday schools in nineteenth-century America. It will be published in the North American Religions Series at NYU Press. How Jewish Education Became Religious explores the gendered dynamics of nineteenth-century supplemental Jewish education, and the ways in which the women – and men – who pioneered the field sought to recreate Jewish education as religious education.

With Sharon Avni (CUNY), she is also currently at work on a contemporary ethnographic project exploring Jewish learning in cultural arts settings, supported by the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis University. This research investigates the ways that museums, television shows, digital media, music, and theatre serve as vibrant settings for Jews and non-Jews to learn about Judaism and Jewishness, and to explore their own religious and cultural identities. More information on this work in progress can be found on the project webpage: https://www.brandeis.edu/mandel/projects/culturalarts.html

EDUCATION

Ph.D., Georgetown University, 2013 (Religious Studies)

M.A., McMaster University, 2008 (Religious Studies)

M.St., Oxford University, 2006 (Jewish Studies)

B.A., Oxford University, 2005

PRINCIPAL SCHOLARLY INTERESTS

Jewish education

American Judaism

Religion and Non-Profits

Media Mentions

Courses

REL 101 Exploring Religions
This course explores the rich diversity of the world’s religious traditions, focusing particularly on the ways that various religious traditions create communities oriented around practices, worldviews, and ideas of the sacred. We will ask whether it is possible to define religion as a general concept, explore the histories and practices of 6 religious traditions, and inquire about the relevance of religion in the contemporary world. We will pay attention to sacred texts, concepts of the divine, statements of belief, the use of memory and history, and the efficacy of ritual. This course will operate from the assumption that religion is an indelible element of human culture. Religion is part of what makes human existence rich and complex.

REL 310: Judaism
This course explores the history of Jews and Judaism. Beginning with the earliest texts of the Hebrew Bible, our course will begin in the Ancient Near East, and take us to Israel, Iran, Spain, North Africa, and Europe, before landing in the contemporary United States. The paradigmatic story of the Jewish people, a story that is told each year during the Passover Seder, is the story of the exodus from Egypt. Our course will build towards a final assignment in which you will analyze a Haggadah (the ritual text of the Passover seder) from the MSU library’s special collection. In this course, and through this final assignment in particular, you will learn about the ways that Jews have negotiated their own understandings of Jewish ritual, Jewish history, and Jewish religion, and have told stories about belonging, liberation, freedom, and responsibility.

REL 411 Modern Jewish Thought
The modern world in which we live grants us freedoms and opportunities that would have been unimaginable to those living in previous generations. But for representatives of religious traditions like Judaism, modernity has also been a source of significant challenges – even crises – that would likewise have been unimaginable in pre-modern times. This course will explore the myriad forms of Jewish philosophy, mysticism, and political thought that have emerged out of the struggles between reason and faith, between autonomy and religious authority, and between secular and religious values, that mark the modern religious experience. We will ask: What paths have been opened up by Jewish philosophers or mystics living in the modern world that lead to the knowledge and experience of divinity which they seek? What aspects and events of the modern world have most challenged and transformed the faith and the identity of modern Jewish thinkers? Is it possible to find meaning in the ideas and practices of Judaism if one no longer accepts the laws of the Bible and Talmud as divinely authoritative? As we explore such questions over the course of the semester, we will discover how Jewish thinkers in modernity have redefined the meaning of Judaism.

REL 414 Jewish Identity
The course investigates the multiple and often contradictory identities of contemporary American Jews. Judaism in America is experienced as, among other things, a religion, as varieties of ethnicity and heritage, a daily way of life, a system of ethics, and a communal memory of the Jewish past. Utilizing narrative theories of identity construction, in this course students will examine different vocabularies that Jews use to talk about the ways that they are Jewish. This course proceeds from two fundamental assumptions: (1) that identities are fluid, dynamic, and constantly in production (2) that discourses on religion, race, secularity, culture, and gender intersect to shape their production. In other words, there is no single Jewish identity – but there are many Jewish identities. This course will introduce students to critical readings and primary sources that attest to the ways that varieties of Judaism are constructed and reconstructed in contemporary America. 

Publications

“Exit Through the Gift Shop: Affective Learning and Millennial Jewish Consumer Culture at the National Museum of American Jewish History,” Material Religion (forthcoming 2022)

Chevruta in the Museum,” in Diane Tickton Schuster, ed., Portraits of Adult Jewish Learning, Eugene: Wipf and Stock (forthcoming 2022)

“Saturday Night Seder and the Affordances of Cultural Arts During COVID-19,” co-author Sharon Avni, Contemporary Jewry, 41:1 (2021), 3-22.

“Professional Development for Disruptive Jews: The Lippman Kanfer Sensibilities Project as a Learning Agenda for Jewish Professional Education,” Journal of Jewish Education, 85: 4 (2019): 408-428

“Say it with Flowers: Shavuot, Confirmation and Ritual Reimagination for a Modern Age,” Shofar, 35:4 (2017): 1-20

“Jewish Education in the Age of the Rediscovery of the Soul,” Journal of Jewish Education, 82:2 (2016): 117-131

“Blasphemy and the Negotiation of Religious Pluralism in Britain,” Politics and Religion, No. 2, Volume 4 (2010): 237-255

University News

NEH Grant to Develop Open-Source Code for Self-Recording Mobile App
Published February 14, 2022 in College of Arts & Letters
College of Arts & Letters’ Assistant Professor of Linguistics Betsy Sneller was awarded a $99,908 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Digital Humanities Advancement…Read now »
How Religions Around the World Are Keeping the Faith During COVID-19
Published April 6, 2020 in College of Arts & Letters
a person praying
COVID-19 has rocked everyday life for people around the world, requiring religious communities to shift worship at a time that many consider the most holiest of the year. Daily and weekly…Read now »
College Welcomes 30 New Faculty and Staff Members
Published August 30, 2018 in College of Arts & Letters
brick building with a blue sky surrounded by trees
This year, the College of Arts & Letters welcomes 30 new faculty and staff members. They include the following:  Qais Assali Qais Assali, Visiting Assistant Professor and…Read now »