Students attending Muhlenberg College in Allentown will have the option to major in Jewish studies starting in fall 2013.
The addition was sparked by the growth of the Jewish studies minor, which the school first began offering in 1988, administrators said in a news release. Around 25 students minored in the subject this past year, said Hartley Lachter, associate professor of religion studies, up from only a handful when he joined the faculty seven years ago.
The Jewish student body has been growing rapidly over that time period, too. Roughly 750 Jews account for about a third of the 2,200 students at the private liberal arts college, which is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Another third is Roman Catholic; the rest are Protestants, a range of other religions or unaffiliated. Responding to the blossoming Jewish population, the school last year celebrated a $4.8 million Hillel expansion.
Jewish studies will be the first new major since film studies and finance were approved in 2006, according to school officials.
Majors must complete nine courses in subjects such as Hebrew, religion, philosophy, history and political science. Courses taken abroad in Israel and Europe or though a newly established agreement with the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York could also apply.
Lachter, also the director of the Jewish studies program, said the major sets Muhlenberg apart from other liberal arts colleges in the area that don't have it. Offering an even wider range of Jewish studies classes will only expand the interest in it, he said.