Visioning Justice

Date: Mar 29, 2020 - Mar 30, 2020

Sponsor: Kekst Graduate School

Location: JTS

Category: Public Lectures & Events

NOTE: This event has been postponed. 

Visioning Justice

The Gershon Kekst Graduate School presents a penetrating look at the relationship between institutions, faith, and social justice—from Morningside Heights to New York City to the world at large. Scholars, activists, and the renowned architects of the new JTS campus explore how our schools, faith communities, and physical surroundings shape our conceptions of justice and how we act upon it.

We’ll ask questions such as:

  • Can architecture galvanize a faith community to work for justice?
  • How do varied religious traditions understand the nature and scope of justice—and do these notions help or hinder the quest for a just world?
  • How have ties between religious and academic institutions inspired social activism?
  • What are Jewish day schools and public schools doing to cultivate a climate of student empowerment?

The Visioning Justice conference starts Sunday evening and continues through Monday. You can register for any part of the event you choose.

Download the flyer

Sunday Evening Opening Session
Hear the renowned architects of the new JTS campus, Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, and Paul Schulhof, discuss the values and vision underlying their celebrated designs for cultural and academic institutions.

Monday Panels:

  • Religion, activism, and the academy in Morningside Heights and Beyond
  • Social Justice in public schools and day schools
  • The complex relationship between religious traditions and global justice
  • Lunch session with local community activists

Sunday, March 29

“Space, Place, and Communities of Faith”
6:30 p.m. 

Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien say that the foundation of architecture “lies in believing that it is possible to make places on earth that can give a sense of grace to life.” JTS professor Barbara Mann speaks to Williams, Tsien, and Paul Schulhof about their philosophy and how it is reflected in their design for the JTS campus. 


Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, and Paul Schulhof, principals in the architectural firm Tod Williams Billie Tsien. Winners of numerous citations, their work focuses on institutions including schools, museums, and not-for-profits. They are the designers of the acclaimed Barnes Foundation art museum in Philadelphia. 


Barbara Mann, professor of cultural studies and Hebrew Literature and the Chana Kekst Professor of Jewish Literature at JTS. Her areas of expertise include Israeli and Jewish literature, cultural studies, modern poetry, critical theory and urban studies, literary modernism, and the fine arts.

Monday, March 30

I. “The Place of Religion and the Academy in Morningside Heights and Beyond”
10:15–11:45 a.m.

Morningside Heights has been a center of religious thought and social activism for over a century. Panelists will discuss the rich history and future prospects of social justice in our immediate community and beyond. 


Jeffrey S. Gurock, Libby M. Klaperman Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva University

Henry Goldschmidt, director of programs, Interfaith Center of New York

Katie Merriman, visiting Instructor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA, and a PhD Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 


Shuly Rubin Schwartz, provost of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Irving Lehrman Research Professor of American Jewish History, and Sala and Walter Schlesinger Dean of the Gershon Kekst Graduate School

II. “Collaboration and Community Activism” 

Lunch Session
12–2 p.m.

Representatives of JTS and several local activist groups discuss their collaborative work on issues of fairness and human dignity for members of our community. 

This session is sponsored by JTS’s Louis Finnkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies. 


Vidal Guzman, community organizer for Just Leadership USA, which is dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in #halfby2030. JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform.

Marsha Jean-Charles, lead organizer of the Brotherhood/Sister Sol, which provides comprehensive and long-term support services to youth and focuses on issues such as leadership development and educational achievement, sexism and misogyny, political education and social justice, and global awareness.

Julio Medina, founder and CEO of Exodus Transitional Community, an organization that delivers innovative programming tailored to adults and youth affected by the justice system, and advocates for a society in which all can achieve social, economic, and spiritual well–being.


Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, associate dean of The Rabbinical School of JTS. She is focused on raising the scope and profile of social justice work and community organizing skills in the role of the contemporary rabbi.

III. “Voicing Justice in Schools: Revisioning Student Empowerment”
2:153:45 p.m.

This panel will explore approaches to social justice in public and Jewish day schools that frame learners as partners with educators. Panelists will raise questions about the role of school leaders in cultivating a climate of student empowerment, expertise, and shared voice.


Nadjwa E. L. Norton, associate professor, Literacy Program, the City College of New York, CUNY. Her research is focused on spirituality, culturally responsive pedagogies, and learning, specifically in public schools.

Shira Eve Epstein, associate professor, Department of Leadership and Human Development, the City College of New York, CUNY. She is author of Teaching Civic Literacy Projects: Student Engagement with Social Problems. She specializes in “action civics,” engaging students in civics change in public schools.

Abigail Uhrman, assistant professor of Jewish education, JTS. Her research focuses on individuals with disabilities in the Jewish community, both generally and within specific Jewish educational settings. 

Meredith Katz, clinical assistant professor of Jewish education, JTS. She is the coordinator of the online MA program and teaches courses in pedagogical skills, curriculum, and staff development and supervision.


Shira D. Epstein, dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education and assistant professor of Jewish Education. Her research explores ways to support educators in reflecting upon their practice through a gender lens.

IV. “Religious Traditions and Global Justice”
4:00–5:30 p.m.

This panel will explore how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam conceptualize the nature and scope of justice. It will also examine whether and how these religious traditions help or hinder efforts towards global justice. Its panelist are all prominent or rising scholars of their respective traditions who have seriously engaged with these questions. 


Rebecca Todd Peters, professor of religious studies, Elon College. Her scholarship focuses on questions of social ethics as they relate to economics, the environmental crisis, globalization, poverty and women’s access to reproductive health care.

Ayesha S. Chaudhry, Canada research chair in religion, law and social justice and associate professor of Islamic studies and gender studies, University of British Columbia. She has consulted on high-level national and international cases concerning human rights, religious freedom, and pluralism.

Atalia Omer, associate professor of religion, conflict, and peace studies, University of Notre Dame. Her research interests include religion, nationalism, and peacebuilding; multiculturalism as a framework for conflict transformation and as a theory of justice; and the role of subaltern narratives in reimagining questions of peace and justice.


Yonatan Brafman is assistant professor of Jewish Thought and Ethics and director of the MA Program in Jewish Ethics at JTS. His research focuses on the intersection of Jewish thought, Jewish law, and contemporary moral and legal philosophy. 

This conference is sponsored by the Gershon Kekst Graduate School of JTS. Learn more.