Profiles of Current Students
Judith Sherwin, AMRS 2011
Why pursue the AMRS degree?
This is an interesting question asked by many of my friends and acquaintances. "You are already an attorney. Why are you getting a masters' degree?" The answer to that on a very simple level is just because. At this stage it's not about getting a job or a degree. I love to study and to learn new things. And what better place to do that than the University of Chicago?
I began pursuing my first Masters' degree at the University of Chicago through the Graham School. I graduated in 2005 with an MLA (Master Liberal Arts). In my last class in the MLA program I was fortunate enough to take a class with Professor David Tracy and realized that I was nowhere near ready to give up studying at the University. I then embarked upon a Graduate Student At Large experience during which I took several courses with David Tracy (since retired) and Paul Mendes Flohr. The scholarship and erudition of these professors and their work in religion was compelling and with their encouragement I decided I wanted to pursue a more organized study of religion.
The intellectual atmosphere and serious scholarship of the Divinity School has always been of keen interest to me. As an attorney practicing in the courts in Cook County I dealt with everyday, generally transitory questions – most of which do not concern themselves with the cosmos and generally can be answered to some degree with money. As a student in the AMRS program I confronted different questions – even eternal questions -- ones which have few or no sure solutions but which needed to be asked and considered critically in any event. Again, what better place to do this than the Divinity School of the University of Chicago?
How did the program and the wider University help you attain your goals.
While my primary job is that of a litigation and trial attorney in a busy practice in Chicago I have also since 2001 served as an adjunct professor at Loyola University Law School. As a student and teacher of the law I have had an abiding interest in the area of Religious Liberty as expressed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. My work in the AMRS program exposed me to differing views and ideas about religion and its position in society; about the private thought and the public action of religious life; about the practice and place of religion in the public sphere of a pluralistic society such as ourown. Studying religion at the Divinity School enriched and deepened my thinking on religion and the First Amendment's guarantees and protections of religion in America. As a result of my study here I have this year created and am giving a seminar on Religious Liberty in Loyola's Law School. Given what is going on in the United States in the year 2012 my students and I have laughingly given the course the subtitle of "Ripped From the Headlines". It would not have been possible to undertake this endeavor without my study at the University in general and the Divinity School in particular.
What have been the highlights of your experiences?
Two team taught courses: The first with David Tracy and Paul Mendes-Flohr on Rosenzweig and Levinas. Words cannot describe the pleasure of sitting in a classroom watching these two intellectual giants speak with one another while I am allowed to listen in. The second with David Tracy and Wendy Doniger on Shakespeare. Again – This was an intellectual tour de force giving me insights into Shakespeare's work on a level which I had never considered. The common denominator, of course, is Professor David Tracy, whose intellectual brilliance and kind humanity have made a major impact in my life.
What do you plan to do after completing your degree?
I plan on continuing to study, perhaps to write and to teach Religious Liberty and maybe another First Amendment constitutional law course at Loyola trying to keep up as the courts continue to enunciate the tensions and parameters of the First Amendment's religious freedom of expression on the one hand and the anti-establishment of religion on the other hand and its place in the private and public spheres of our lives.