“But what is religion?” For many years, the hiring interviews conducted by the Department of Religious Studies would culminate in this most pressing question of Professor Aronowicz, a question that candidates had to pass through in order to accede to a position teaching religious studies at Franklin & Marshall College. Professor Aronowicz’s importunate question stood as a fiery gate of horn through which her junior colleagues had transited, a passage assuring her and us that our students would not be taken in by the slippery gate of ivory where religion could appear a simple “just this” or a “just that,” a something reducible to something else. Rather, as Professor Aronowicz taught for more than three decades, the integrity of religious studies depends on the willingness to pursue what religion is through examining its multifarious expressions in the many religions and cultures of the world.
Professor Aronowicz earned her B.A. at UCLA in 1974 and her Ph.D. in history, also from UCLA, in 1982. She obtained a position in the Religious Studies Department at F&M in 1985, earned tenure in 1990, and promotion to full Professor in 2000. In 2002, she was honored as the Robert F. and Patricia G. Ross Weis Professor of Judaic Studies. Devoted to teaching, she was never slack in scholarship. An internationally recognized scholar whose works have been translated into French, Hebrew, and German, Professor Aronowicz has authored three books, as well as more than 30 articles and book chapters, on well-known and lesser-known modern thinkers such as Emmanuel Levinas, Charles Péguy, Czeslaw Milosz, Abraham Heschel, Marilynne Robinson, and the Yiddish playwright Haim Sloves.
In the introduction to her 1990 translation of Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings, Professor Aronowicz noted how Levinas sought to translate the teachings of the Talmud “in an expository, conceptual language that would be accessible to every educated, even if uninitiated, listener.” The same can be said, with perfect justice, of the language with which Professor Aronowicz addressed her students, her colleagues, and the reading public: a form of expression that would make as perspicacious as possible the complex webs of religious thought, belief, and practice. She has been a true transmitter of the history-of-religions school in seeking a middle path between the pieties of theology that in reverence to faith pulls up short in its questioning, and the hard road of reductionist thinking that insists religion must be explained in terms of more certain verities to be understood at all.
For 33 years, Professor Aronowicz’s intellect, wit, humane perspective, and resolutely questioning stance have made her a light of inspiration to students and colleagues alike, holding up a high bar of rigorous scholarship and responsible teaching, a legacy of the spirit of great education to be maintained at Franklin & Marshall College.
Robert F. and Patricia G. Ross Weis Professor of Judaic Studies Annette Aronowicz