Peter J. Williams

If you've met Peter, you know what I mean when I say he's a fascinating conversationalist. I asked him a few questions about himself, and here are his responses:

Dr. Harrison:  You already are double majoring in French and History, as well minoring in Middle East Studies; why add Jewish Studies as a second minor?

Peter Williams: I have always had a deep interest in Jewish history, culture and religion. It has already played an important part of my studies thus far, be it in Middle Eastern History or French literature. Even at a young age, I was exposed to the influence of Judaism on my own religious tradition. The Torah is the most important example of how ancient Jewish philosophy is at the heart of Western Civilization. As someone interested in the legacy of Scripture in the West, I recognize the need to also study the developments of the Jewish community to better understand how we got to where we are today. I never thought about pursuing a specialization in Jewish Studies until I discovered the program at SJSU; but now I am very excited to learn more about the Jewish people and their cultural contribution to the modern world.

Dr. Harrison: Would you describe one of your writing/ research projects that's allowed you to do a deep dive into an aspect of Jewish history?

Peter Williams: For a class I am taking this semester for my French major, I am researching the changes in France's Jewish community in the 1960s onward. Today, France has the largest Jewish population in Europe. But beyond this, France has had an ancient and rich history of Jewish culture, going back even to the Roman period. Several Mediaeval Sefardi works that contributed to the development of the rabbinic tradition were produced by French-speaking Jewish writers. However, I was surprised to learn that 70% of modern French Jews trace their roots to the notable migration of North Africans in the 1960s during decolonization. The sudden introduction of Maghrebi Jews changed the cultural dynamic. French society simultaneously was dealing with the Algerian crisis and the aftermath of social tension and racism, especially in the urban banlieue environment. In the midst of the discourse between the more numerous Muslims and Christians, the new Jewish migrants also have had a significant voice in the challenge of assimilation without losing personal and religious identity. The migration has had a profound impact on French society as well as among European Jews in general. The state of French Jewry is still very much a modern discussion, as they confront a resurgence of antisemitism and the question of aliyah, and its affects on the Jewish community in France. 

Dr. Harrison: What are your plans for graduate work, and how might your next stage in life connect with a Jewish Studies focus?

Peter Williams: I plan on pursuing a Masters of Divinity for pastoral formation at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to serve as a Lutheran Priest. A significant part of my studies will involve historic Jewish texts, the Hebrew language, inter-faith dialogue and going even deeper into the ancient roots commonly shared by Christians and Jews. My understanding of and respect for Jewish history and philosophy will be intimately tied to my work, both academically at the Seminary and practically in the community. I hope that I am able to begin planting the seeds of appreciation for the Jewish legacy in my own religious context, even now as I finish my undergraduate studies with the Jewish Studies Minor, which already has opened the door to focus my academic research on Judaism and to meet with and learn from local Rabbis. My experience thus far has been truly enriching and encouraging for my future endeavors.