Before receiving her master's degree in Jewish Thought from The Graduate School of The Jewish Theological Seminary in May 2012, Maria Junttila Carson was one of the organizers of "Lost Texts," an academic conference at JTS hosted by the Graduate School Student Organization. It centered on papers presented by students-from Harvard, Brandeis, Columbia, and McMaster universities, the University of Virginia, and JTS-
with responses and a keynote address by faculty from JTS and Yeshiva University. Putting together a serious, full-fledged academic conference that's created, presented by, and focused on the work of graduate students is an unusual accomplishment, but Maria and her fellow students at The Graduate School were used to having themselves and their work taken seriously by the world-leading professors who teach them and guide their studies at JTS.
Maria, who was named a Tikvah Fellow while at JTS, earned two undergraduate degrees from Chicago's DePaul University, a BFA in Theatre Management and a BA in Religious Studies. Shortly after graduating from DePaul, she converted to Judaism. "I feel extremely lucky to be living in a Jewish environment for the first time in my life," Maria says about her years spent studying and living at 3080 Broadway. "I obviously didn't grow up Jewish, or attend a Jewish day school or anything like that. Studying here, alongside many people who are deeply committed to their Jewish faith and practice, has been a great experience."
"I decided to attend JTS for a variety of reasons," she notes. "I liked the small school size, the friendliness of the staff, and the availability of funding for master's students. I also felt that I would benefit from a program that was firmly Jewish studies, as my undergrad degree was from a religious studies program. I also had no background in Hebrew, and knew that my education at JTS would be Hebrew-heavy, to catch me up to speed. I like that I had the opportunity to study texts in the original. It seems that many programs are allowing students not majoring in Talmud or Rabbinic Literature to either not study Talmud or other Rabbinic texts-or to study [them] in translation. Not at JTS-and even though it's hard, and occasionally very frustrating-I really believe it produces stronger academics."
Maria is grateful for the richness of community and the wealth of intellectual experiences she had at JTS, such as her coursework. "I had two favorite classes," Maria said. "The first was the History and Thought of Conservative Judaism, which was taught by Chancellor Arnold Eisen. Dr. Eisen is an extremely good professor and lecturer, and he really cares passionately about Conservative Judaism. The class was also primarily made up of rabbinical students-which I am not-and it was very interesting to see what students studying to be Conservative rabbis had to say about Conservative Judaism. The other would be a class I took on Philosophy and Theology of Contemporary Judaism-this was a class sponsored by the Tikvah Fund. As part of the class, philosophers and theologians that we read . . . visited and facilitated seminar discussions with us-which were extremely interesting and beneficial."
Maria will attend Syracuse University, starting in academic year 2012-2013, to pursue a PhD in Modern Jewish Thought.