Laura Lieber

PhD'03, Bible

Ms. Lieber answered these questions in the summer of 2013.  She joined the Alumni Council in the fall of 2012.

Why did you decide to pursue a degree at the University of Chicago Divinity School?

The University of Chicago was always my first choice for doctoral programs.  In large part, this was because of the tremendous faculty resources (so many of the books I had used in writing my undergraduate and rabbinical theses were authored by U of C faculty!), but also because of the flexible yet rigorous nature of the program itself.  As soon as I received my acceptance letter, I knew it was where I would go. 

What were the highlights of your Divinity School experience?

Without a doubt, the highlights of my time at the Divinity School were the interactions--sustained, substantial, and significant--with my faculty mentors.  I learned so much not only about how to do research, but how to be a faculty person myself.  Even when I was actively in coursework I was aware of how much time my professors were willing to invest in me.  A lot of small, meaningful moments added up over the years. 

What is your current job?  How did you get to this position?

I am an associate professor of Religion at Duke University, director of the Duke-UNC Center for Late Ancient Studies, and the assistant director of the Duke Center for Jewish Studies.   I came to Duke after teaching for five years at Middlebury College in Vermont in their departments of Religion and Classics.

How did the program at the Divinity School and the wider University prepare you for your current work?

The Divinity School taught me both how to teach (by modeling excellent pedagogy and giving me opportunities to teach while I was there) and how to be disciplined in terms of my research.  Furthermore, the open and flexible nature of inquiry fostered by Divinity shapes the way that wherever I am, I find myself seeking out rich and substantial collaborative opportunities, both for co-teaching across divisional lines and in terms of new kind of research projects which integrate new knowledge and methods.  There is a truly distinctive "Chicago Divinity" stamp on all that I do, and I delight in continuing that tradition with my own students.

Can you say more about that?

Less than six months after I graduated from the Divinity School, I participated in a symposium at Middlebury College, where I had just started teaching.  After my paper, a member of the audience came up to me and asked, “You studied with Buzzy, didn’t you?” I replied that yes, Michael Fishbane had been my advisor, and he responded, “I could tell from your whole approach, everything down to the way you structured your paper, that you were his student, that you were from Chicago!”  That was when it really struck me that not only was there was a "Chicago-style" of scholarship, a distinctive way of thinking through texts and how you speak about them, but I "had" it.  I was so pleased--I’m still pleased!--that somehow this training showed.  It’s one thing to say I studied at Chicago, it’s another thing to have it be visible that you "are" Chicago. There is something uniquely creative and rigorous about about how we learn to analyze a text and structure an argument when we're at Swift Hall.  To me, it now seems totally natural to approach my scholarship this way, but it is always ultimately a tribute to the Div School.

What do you do in your non-professional life?

I live in Durham, NC, with my husband Norman Weiner, who is an architect, and my two young sons (ages five and two).   We spend a lot of our free time exploring local parks and playgrounds, and (of course) the libraries.  I'm an avid reader of contemporary fiction and I volunteer a lot of time for committees such as the First Year Student reading selection committee.  I also work closely with the Jewish communities in Durham and Chapel Hill, particularly on family education.

Why did you agree to serve on the Alumni Council?

I was honored and delighted to be asked.  The Divinity School remains important to me, both as an institution to which I owe a debt and a model for the intellectual seriousness I strive to model in my own work.  It is a privilege to be involved at this level, and if I can be of service to my alma mater, I can only say "yes!"