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Answering the Call for Catholic Studies Chair

Experienced historian and theologian chosen to develop interdisciplinary Catholic studies program. First class will be offered in spring semester 2013.

Date: 8/9/2012
By: Tom Robinette
Phone: (513) 556-8577
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati notes that within its 19-county boundary there are more than 95,000 students under Catholic instruction. Jeff Zalar has come here to offer them, millions of Catholics nationwide and others curious about the tremendous impact of Catholicism something previously unavailable – a chance to further their studies at the University of Cincinnati.
Jeff Zalar will lead the development of Catholic studies curriculum in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences.

“There are a significant number of Catholic students not just in the area but in the country who want to learn more about their religious tradition,” Zalar says. “Cincinnati is one of the most robustly and historically deep Catholic urban areas nationwide, and there is no program of Catholic studies at UC. Family and diocesan resources have now come together to say, ‘It’s time to build something big here that speaks to the full complexity and dimensions of the Catholic experience regionally as well as globally.’”

Zalar will lead that initiative as the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences’ new Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Endowed Chair of Catholic Studies. The Milwaukee native has degrees in theology and history (’95) from Marquette University and a PhD in history (’02) from Georgetown University. His professional career began at Valparaiso University as a postdoctoral fellow at Christ College, and he then taught at Pepperdine University. He comes to UC after having taught history, the humanities and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Zalar says he joined UC for the various responsibilities he’d have in developing and administering the interdisciplinary program in Catholic studies here as well as the opportunity to become a member of the History Department faculty. To get things started, Zalar is working to establish a core set of courses in Catholic studies and build relationships with his colleagues and students. He plans to host a speaker series in his first year and to collaborate with the St. Monica-St. George Parish Newman Center on a student program.

“This is a modest beginning, but it has the right size,” Zalar says. “The first year has to be spent identifying, mapping and coordinating institutional and personal assets. And with the right kind of money and leadership, this program can and should be a nationally recognized, leading program in Catholic studies.”

A $2 million gift from the Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Foundation established the endowment for the chair and many other donors from throughout the community have since contributed. With continued support, the program eventually will cover nearly all aspects of Catholicism, from its 2,000 year-old traditions to its influence on modern global society and many other academic disciplines, such as art, literature and politics.

“All of us within the foundation are thrilled to witness the realization of what has long been a passion of ours,” says Kathleen Conway Bell. “We are proud to have a teacher and historian of Jeff’s caliber leading the formation of such an important and fascinating addition to UC’s curriculum.”

Zalar will teach the first course in the Catholic studies curriculum, “The Catholic Intellectual Tradition,” which is offered through the History Department and will be available in spring semester. Going forward, he envisions a broad spectrum of classes, covering topics like Catholic medical ethics and Renaissance Catholic art. He says religion in American public life and the Catholic Church’s claims in that arena are a frequent topic in the daily national conversation and as such should be understood by scholars of every kind.

“Catholicism has been a culture-forming force in global history since the fourth century with a profound and living intellectual tradition and with cultural perspectives that continue to shape the mentalities of millions of people worldwide,” Zalar says. “As a purely generic matter of scholarly interest, Catholicism must be studied – it must – and in a way that is in line with the best traditions of liberal learning.”

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