by Lisa H. Schwartz
April 27, 2018

Nan Goodman’s scholarship incorporates learning with the community, from work as a law and humanities scholar to research in Jewish Mysticism and American Judaism.

Goodman is the director of the Program in Jewish Studies and professor of English. On a busy day in the spring 2018 semester, I met Professor Goodman in her office after she kindly rushed back from teaching her afternoon class. Goodman’s corner office, with its high walls covered in books, quite literally has an aura of scholarly refinement and “the ivory tower.”  But Goodman’s work is anything but removed from the community. In her role as director of the Program in Jewish Studies (PJS), she has steered the program toward robust and multifaceted community engagement.

In discussing her work with the program, Goodman emphasized that while the program may be small in size, it has a large impact on the community.

"People tell us they build our program into their lives. They even tell us they retired in Boulder because of our programming, so I guess we’re doing something right."

She also explained that “It’s really important for our community engagement projects for people to know we are not a religious program. This is one of the services we provide for the community— it’s a very clearly secular, analytical space in which to talk about ideas from a non-identity building and non-religious point of view.”

Goodman’s research intersects with her work with the program and on her long-standing interest in the law in early America. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards and is the author of many articles and three books, including her most recent, The Puritan Cosmopolis: The Law of Nations and the Early American Imagination (Oxford UP, 2018).

Our discussion of her community engaged scholarship centered on Goodman’s work at the helm of the Program in Jewish Studies. The program offers local talks and a statewide public lecture series, Peak to Peak, a model community internship program and more. It also has a board comprised of community members. Each of these elements feeds into the culture of the program that weaves engagement for students, faculty and community members into the core of its mission and everyday practice.

This is part of the Office for Outreach and Engagement's Engaged Scholars Interview series, which is designed to bring the process of community-engaged scholarship to life through discussions with exemplary CU Boulder scholars.

Why do you do community-engaged work as part of your research, teaching or creative work?

A personal background of prizing community service feeds into directing PJS
Why I do community-engaged work overlaps with how I integrate my experience into my work. I come from a background where community service was always prized, and as director of the Program in Jewish Studies, community service has felt extremely central to the work I do as an administrator, scholar and teacher.

Small in size, large in impact
In terms of the number of students, PJS is a small program that serves roughly 1000 students a year. For a small academic unit, the program has a disproportionately large community outreach. The program is completely committed to our community stakeholders, who are lifelong learners. The externally facing aspect of the program is meant to bring them into the fold. This has been rewarding for the community and for our regularly matriculated students.

Learning as a lifelong process and breaking down walls between community and university
College is an artificial construct, but when our students get to know our community members they come to see learning as a process that goes on forever. This has been really rewarding and is part of the mandate of the program. I would add it’s part of the Jewish tradition to make sure that you speak to, address and encompass as large a group as possible without the stratification among students, faculty, staff, community members that typically goes on in a university—to break some of those walls down.

Community engagement, grounded in students and the university’s public mission
Community engagement has become a huge focus for me. I see it as one of the two major directions in which the program can go. The program is grounded in students, and the community work dovetails nicely with the mission of a public university. My own training was in private universities, and I think that is part of why I came to embrace the public university imperative to make the classroom more inclusive and to make sure the community is part of the learning and teaching experience.

Reflect on your particular experience and journey as a scholar. How has your experience shaped your beliefs and practices?

Scholarship in Jewish Mysticism shaped by community interest and support
As a scholar, I was trained in early American literature and cultural studies. A lot of what I have learned as a Jewish Studies scholar is that while we learn a lot from books, we also learn a great deal from the community. It is especially gratifying to be the director of a program in Boulder, where there are so many engaged community members and people who know so much about American Judaism and Jewish Renewal. I am not sure I would have gone in the direction of Jewish Mysticism in my scholarship if not for the community interest, energy and support around that.

Need to create community fostered innovation
I am rostered in the English Department here at CU, and in terms of faculty and students served, the English Department is much larger than PJS. The English department does a huge amount of great programming, but I think because we in PJS are smaller and more specialized, we have had to look beyond the campus community. In addition, because we don’t teach a subject that most of our students have ever even heard of before they come to campus, reaching out to the community beyond the university is a good fit for us. Necessity is the mother of invention!

Interdisciplinary scholarship and applied work; connecting with lawyers and legal scholars
I am also a law and a humanities scholar. Over the past 25 years I have been involved in creating community around bringing the scholarly study of the law into other disciplines, an interdisciplinary approach to the study of law, literature, and real world problems. Lawyers and legal scholars tend to be concerned with real world problems (laughter), and literary scholars with the development of theory and new interpretive approaches, so bringing law and humanities together has been productive for both sides. I have attended symposia and conferences about these things, and I have made connections with people working in courtrooms, law schools, and community members involved with the law. My work as a director of the Program in Jewish Studies has in some ways been a natural outgrowth of this part of my intellectual history.

How do you integrate your community work into your research, teaching and creative work?

The Shekinah: scholarship through learning from and with the community
The best example of this for me was the organization, brainstorming and orchestration of the Embodied Judaism symposium that occurred last November.  This was a great highlight for me as a scholar, teacher, community participant, and someone who has community engagement on her mind. The symposium was devoted to a mystical figure, the Shekinah, about whom students knew very little but people in the community knew quite a bit. This was a clear instance for me of being taught by the community. We brought the Jewish Renewal community in for a deeper dive into a subject they had been thinking about for a long time and we paired their expertise with speakers from outside Boulder and with research opportunities for our students. This was really a highlight of my career and an example of scholarship inextricably linked to the community. Many of the things I learned in working on the Shekhinah will be a part of my next book.

Opportunities for learning about the uniqueness of American Judaism courtesy of PJS donors
Another important union of the program’s community engagement and my research revolves around the Post-Holocaust American Judaism archives that PJS supervises. There is a year-long exhibit in the Norlin library that accompanied the Shekhinah symposium that draws on the archival collections we have acquired through our donors. We have 17 different collections and donors. These collections represent the work of contributors who have made a major difference in the development of American Judaism, which is different from Judaism anywhere else in the world. I have learned a great deal myself from doing research in those archives and have exposed my students to the primary materials, which is of enormous benefit to them and has pointed many of them in the direction of graduate school.

Faculty in music, history, anthropology and more engaging community with diverse perspectives and timely issues such as immigration
Another amazing thing about the program in Jewish Studies is that we are completely interdisciplinary. Our faculty are trained in music and music theory, literature, history, religious studies, anthropology and more, and all of these methodologies are brought to bear in our classrooms and our research. Having different faculty and students in the program with different perspectives also helps with community engagement. We study a global people who have for better or for worse been at the center of many important and controversial issues that are still with us. There is an inherent kind of topicality in this work. Immigration, diaspora... I think these are very timely issues.

Serving the community and reaching audiences beyond the front range: The Peak to Peak Lecture Series
The Peak to Peak Lecture Series is a huge part of how I’ve integrated community engagement into the program. There is a similar program to the Peak to Peak lecture series at the University of Connecticut, and after speaking to the faculty member who started it, I was sold. It seemed like a wonderful way to increase community access to scholars and give faculty that same sense of being grounded in the community, and as the university began to articulate more of its own mandate for serving the community, it made more sense for to us to see what needs and interests existed outside the Boulder/Denver area. It also helps that we have a highly skilled and performative faculty who do well in front of a public audience.

The importance of community connections for inspiring scholarship
This work is a fabulous bridge to what used to be called book learning. For me it has really made certain parts of Jewish history come alive. I know it sounds corny, but it really is true. My experience in Trinidad, Colorado really grounded me in community. I don’t think I ever felt as connected to Colorado as I did in Trinidad when I went there as part of Peak to Peak. It was thrilling to meet the community, speak to the Rubin brothers (caretakers of the historic Temple Aaron in Trinidad, CO) and learn about their personal histories. It really re-inspired me and reminded me of the importance of inspiration in my scholarly work. Inspiration is important because it ensures that scholarship comes from rich rather than desiccated place. That has been very important to me.

Helping to save historic Temple Aaron in Trinidad, CO
And I have been introducing students to folks working in the Trinidad community, which is really exciting. We are advertising for an intern to help the Rubins work on saving Temple Aaron, and now we have an affiliated graduate student who will work with the Trinidad community on this issue as part of your office’s Engaged Arts and Humanities Graduate Student Scholars Program.

A model internship and class: real-word learning and academic reflection
We are also one of the first programs to have an internship program and class, and it’s been so successful that other campus units have modeled their programs on ours. We send our students into the community. About half the students will come to us with projects they want to be involved in. For example, there was student who wanted to work with the Gift of Life, a bone marrow registry. We got her supervisor from the organization on board and she got academic credit for the internship and the class we pair with the real-life experience. The class is for undergraduates from any program or background, and the internships offer a variety of work experiences in Jewish and non-Jewish organizations. We have partnerships with about 15 organizations in and around Boulder, and we can’t fill all of the spaces. The class meets once a week with our Hebrew instructor, Eyal Rivlin, who teaches the course and helps the students think through Jewish ethics and professionalization and troubleshoot things on the ground with each other.

What are some strategies you use, what have you learned about balancing the demands of community work and academia?

Balancing engaging with the compelling people in your life with creating boundaries for producing scholarship
That’s a hard one…there is a tendency for things to take up as much time as you give them. Community work is very labor intensive. There are lots of people with needs, desires and energy. Even if you aren’t doing community work, it’s always a balance between the people who need you and who are always more compelling than the research you are doing, and the inevitable draw back to the books and the production of new knowledge. You learn from the start that you have to set boundaries, and sometimes I fail, and it’s overwhelming.

What is your experience with / thoughts on / plan for tenure?

Tenure processes an obstacle for doing community engagement work
Within the university structure things are opening up a little bit, but I do think community engagement work is still best suited for people with tenure. We have a number of junior faculty in Jewish studies who are unbelievably generous with their time, but I try to protect them because they need to focus on their teaching and research above all because of tenure processes. Before tenure, I did do some of this work, but less than many of my colleagues in Jewish Studies. I felt more free to do this work and to spend more time on it after tenure.

Regarding this work (engaged scholarship), what kind of mentorship have you received and how do you mentor others?

From receiving no mentorship in community engagement to mentoring junior faculty
I received no mentorship in this area and it’s been a steep learning curve for me. It’s a really different form of communication than what I was trained to do, but it is tremendously rewarding.

I think I have been able to mentor younger faculty in this regard, and we’ve been doing it so much that I think it’s become an integral part of the culture in our program.  Also, many of my junior colleagues in Jewish Studies may be more prepared insofar as they see themselves as public intellectuals, which is already premised on a type of engagement.

Any advice for others who are interested in this work?

The challenge of finding ways to collaborate that are mutually benenficial
The most challenging part is finding a way to communicate what it is that we do as scholars and also how to identify what it is that we can contribute to the community without either party losing interest or identity.

Social justice and staying open to possibilities
For us it’s about public service and social justice. Also, I suggest keeping the door open to possibilities. We never know when we will grab someone’s interest.

PJS staff and community contributions key to successful community outreach
Without the staff and community donations in PJS, none of our community outreach could happen. We don’t receive any dedicated university funding for our community outreach. We have the Program in Jewish Studies advisory board, which is made up of community members. It was started last year and has really gotten off the ground this year. Their mission is to engage community members, help raise profile of the unit and raise funding. To raise money means more hires, more programming, more goodies for faculty and students, so it’s a very symbiotic kind of thing. The more we do what we do, the more the community benefits. The programming this year was so great. People tell us they build our program into their lives. They even tell us they retired in Boulder because of our programming, so I guess we’re doing something right.