By Stephanie Goodling
The Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College has been rebranded as the Institute for Religious and Cultural Understanding. The announcement came last month from Dr. William “Chip” Gruen, professor of religion studies, who was the interim director of the IJCU and is now director of the Institute.
"A more inclusive name signals to both the local community and the college community that our mission encompasses understanding the rich diversity of religious and cultural identities that we encounter every day,” said Gruen.
The Institute's reframed mission statement has been updated to meet the challenges that confront the local community and beyond, emphasizing the importance of religious literacy as well as the need for all of us to be able to discuss and analyze religious and cultural difference with empathy and sophistication.
The longstanding connection between the Institute and the Lehigh Valley Jewish community will continue despite the name change.
"Every change that we are making can be viewed as an augmentation,” said Gruen. “We are building on the strong foundation built by the IJCU by expanding the programming, the constituency and the reach of the Institute."
The programming that has been of primary importance to the local Jewish community will continue uninterrupted. The Youth and Prejudice Conference, the Wallenberg Tribute and First Friday programs will remain staples of the Institute. In fact, the Institute just held the 2020 Wallenberg Tribute in October, honoring Krista Tippett, a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, a New York Times bestselling author and a National Humanities Medalist who was the 2019 Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor at Stanford University.
"Understanding Judaism and Christianity remains incredibly important to the mission of the Institute. It would be impossible to consider the religious diversity of both the Lehigh Valley and the larger world without a keen understanding of these two religious traditions. However, to think that we only need to know about Judaism and Christianity to be engaged and informed citizens of the world would be myopic to the richness of religious diversity all around us,” explained Gruen.
In addition to the ongoing programs, new offerings are in the works from the Institute, including more audio–visual material made available through new channels such as a podcast, the potential development of continuing education programs in partnership with the School of Graduate and Continuing Education at Muhlenberg, and enhanced in-person experiences for the local community when the public health situation improves.