When Franklin & Marshall Provost and Dean of the Faculty Ann Steiner introduced Professor Scott Lerner for his endowed chair lecture at Common Hour Nov. 15, she said Lerner "thinks big, bigger than most of us, about deepening the impact of his courses."
The same could be said of Lerner's preparation for the lecture, which he delivered in F&M's Barshinger Center for Musical Arts to mark his appointment as the Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and French and Italian. Lerner, who was appointed to the endowed chair in 2011, guided the audience through the radically evolving relationship between Christians and Jews in the modern era by interpreting the unprecedented visit in 1986 by Pope John Paul II to the Great Synagogue in Rome (view highlights of Lerner's presentation in the video below).
"I wanted to provide an example of how we do interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities at F&M," Lerner said of his lecture topic. "I thought for a long time about developing a topic that would have broad appeal to the Franklin & Marshall community, and one in which the stakes were high. The pope's visit to the Great Synagogue set in motion a major realignment of two pillars of Western civilization. I hope the lecture appealed to students interested in many disciplines, including religious studies, architecture, Judaic studies, Italian and history."
Lerner's lecture, titled "The Bishop and the Synagogue of Rome," is part of the final chapter in his upcoming book that explores modern Italy from the vantage point of Jews versus the state, the state versus the Roman Catholic Church, and the relationship between the church and Jews. The book -- currently under agreement with Stanford University Press -- represents Lerner's most recent work on the story of Jews in Europe, which is one of his strong research interests.
Lerner joined F&M in 1995 after serving as a lecturer at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and teaching briefly at the Université de Paris VII and Ministère des Affaires Etrangères in Paris. At F&M he has taught French and Italian and led courses in Judaic studies and comparative literary studies.
Lerner is one of three F&M professors who hold Shadek chairs in the Humanities, along with Professor Lynn Matluck Brooks (Department of Theatre, Dance & Film) and Professor David Schuyler (Department of American Studies). The endowed professorships are made possible by the Shadek family, which has a nearly 50-year history of supporting F&M. The family has funded the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, Shadek-Fackenthal Library and contributed the lead gift for Shadek Stadium.
Appointment to an endowed chair is the highest promotion a faculty member can achieve at F&M, Steiner said.
"Endowed chairs do more than honor faculty members who have served with distinction," Steiner said. "Important educational objectives for the Shadek chairs include the bridging of academic disciplines, enriching the curriculum and strengthening departments. Professor Lerner meets these criteria to an almost uncanny degree."