San Francisco State UniversityWeb A-ZFind it Fast

Fred Astren named director of SFSU Jewish Studies Program



Matt Itelson
SFSU Office of Public Affairs
(415) 338-1743
(415) 338-1665


Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs


Judaism, Islam historian plans to expand program and its community outreach activities 


SAN FRANCISCO, May 8, 2003 - Fred Astren, an expert on Jewish and Islamic history and a member of the San Francisco State University faculty since 1996, was recently named director of the SFSU Jewish Studies Program.

Astren, a Skirball Visiting Fellow at Oxford University's Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies this semester, will begin serving as director in June.

"Professor Astren is well-respected by faculty and students alike," said John Gemello, SFSU provost and vice president for academic affairs. "With his strong leadership skills and visionary intellect, as well as his own scholarly research in Jewish and Islamic history, the Jewish Studies Program will blossom in the coming years."

Astren plans to revise the Jewish Studies curriculum to create a "small-scale community of learning for Jews and non-Jews within the University" and offer more interdisciplinary courses, as well as encourage civil debate and dialogue in the classroom on controversial issues.

"Issues that become volatile in the public sphere can be dealt with in the classroom when balance, fairness and the avoidance of sensationalism are applied," said Astren, an associate professor of Jewish Studies. "When critical interpretive frameworks are agreed upon, then any issue can be addressed in the classroom."

Astren also plans to expand the Jewish Studies Program's community outreach activities.

"I envisage establishing new working relationships and deepening existing ones with both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations and their leadership," he said. "Partnerships between the academy and the community generate excitement and bring both breadth and depth to learning and community activism."

Astren's areas of research interest are Karaite Jewish history and religion, Jews in the Islamic world, the Islamization of the Middle East in the Middle Ages, and sacred history in western traditions.

He earned his doctorate in Near Eastern studies from UC Berkeley, his master's degree in Arabic from UC Berkeley, and his bachelor's degree in medieval history from University of Minnesota.

Astren replaces Laurie Zoloth. Marc Dollinger, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility, is serving as acting director this semester during Astren's fellowship.

Founded in 1993, the Jewish Studies Program attracts a diverse group of students from many racial and ethnic backgrounds, including participants in SFSU's elders programs and other community members. Students learn a variety of Jewish history, thought and culture from a renowned faculty. The Marvin L. Silverman Jewish Studies Reading Room, named after one of the program's founding faculty, contains a special collection of more than 2,000 academic, reference and historical books on Jewish subjects. Full original transcripts from the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials were recently donated to the program.

The Jewish Studies Program offers a bachelor's degree in Modern Jewish Studies, a minor in Jewish Studies and a graduate certificate in Jewish Community Studies.

For more information about the Jewish Studies Program, call (415) 338-6075, send e-mail to, or visit:

One of the largest campuses in the California State University system, SFSU was founded in 1899 and today is a highly diverse, comprehensive, public and urban university.



NOTE: To schedule interviews with Fred Astren, contact Matt Itelson of the SFSU Office of Public Affairs at (415) 338-1743 or

San Francisco State University Home     Search     Need Help?    

1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132  415/338-1111
Last modified April 24, 2007, by the Office of Public Affairs