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Leading Holocaust Expert to Join UVA Faculty as a Visiting Scholar

Jun 02, 2022 |
Former Director of the Programs on Ethics, Religion and the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Victoria Barnett will join the UVA faculty as a visiting scholar for the 2022-2023 academic year.
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With incidents of violence fueled by racism and antisemitism being documented with greater frequency in the media, the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences has announced its ambition to strengthen its commitment to the scholarly study of the Holocaust and Jewish-Christian relations. Noted religious studies scholar and public educator Dr. Victoria Barnett has accepted a University appointment as the Frank Talbott, Jr. Endowed Visiting Professor for the 2022-2023 academic year.

Barnett is one of the world’s preeminent scholars of religion and the Holocaust, as well as a leading expert on the German Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was imprisoned and later executed for his outspoken opposition to Hitler’s persecution of the Jewish people. Most recently, Barnett served as Director of Programs on Ethics, Religion and the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I’m really honored to be invited to do this,” Barnett said. “I have always enjoyed teaching, and I’m looking forward to having conversations with students and engaging with them. This is an important time to be talking about the Holocaust and the issues that come out of it.”

Barnett’s early research was focused on the Confessing Church, a Protestant movement that arose in opposition to efforts to form a unified, national Evangelical Church in Germany during the Nazi era.

“It’s a very instructive case study in thinking about how you go about your everyday life under that kind of moral pressure, how you either support people who need your help or turn away from them — the moral decisions that we make every day that may not seem consequential at the time but turn out to be extremely consequential,” Barnett said.

She added that it’s also a window into “the process by which people become complicit or active perpetrators of evil, the moral compromises that people make around serious issues, and what happens when religion becomes ideological.”

“Those issues of ideologically driven and sometimes distorted religion are very relevant today,” Barnett said.

James Loeffler, UVA’s Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History and the Ida and Nathan Kolodiz Director of Jewish Studies in the College, praised Barnett as one of the world’s foremost scholars of religion and the Holocaust.

“Thanks to her pathbreaking scholarship and vast teaching experience, her impact will be immediate and widespread. We cannot wait to bring her onto Grounds and into the classroom to engage with students here,” he said. “In a moment when we are facing rising antisemitism and Holocaust denial and distortion, our students seek critical knowledge and expert guidance in how history can responsibly inform contemporary moral reasoning.”

A graduate of Indiana University and New York’s Union Theological Seminary, Barnett also holds a Ph.D. from George Mason University’s Carter School of Peace and Conflict Resolution. Over the course of her long career, she has taught at several leading universities and seminaries, including the Princeton Theological Seminary, the Andover-Newton Theological School and the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She has lectured and written extensively about the role of different religious organizations during the Holocaust with a particular focus on German Protestantism, international interfaith movements and religious ecumenicalism. She is also the author of numerous works of religious and historical scholarship, including For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest against Hitler, Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity during the Holocaust, and “After Ten Years”: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Our Times. Barnett is also a general editor of the Complete Works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and she has translated several books, most recently Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict.

Established in 1981, UVA’s Talbott Chair is an endowed professorship annually awarded to a distinguished scholar of national reputation who joins the faculty to teach for one academic year. The Talbott chair rotates between the University’s 12 schools, and after a national search, the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences selected Barnett for the position for the upcoming academic year. As a visiting scholar, Barnett will be appointed to the faculty of the University’s interdisciplinary Jewish Studies Program and affiliated with the Religious Studies and History departments, where she will teach courses on the history of the Holocaust, religious responses to the Holocaust, and religion and ethics.

“Over the past few decades, Barnett’s scholarship has transformed our knowledge of the anguished encounter between religious ethics and the Holocaust. Equally importantly, her teaching has shown generations of students how to use the religious past to reframe the ethical present,” said Willis Jenkins, the John Allen Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics and chair of the College’s Department of Religious Studies. “We are delighted to welcome her into our ranks next year as a colleague.”

The announcement of Barnett’s appointment has drawn praise from scholars across the country. Susannah Heschel, the Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and daughter of noted Jewish theologian Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, spoke enthusiastically about the College’s decision.

“Victoria Barnett is one of the best-informed scholars of Christianity before, during and after the Holocaust,” Herschel said. “Her many publications on Protestant theologians and church leaders in Germany and the United States have influenced students and faculty both in the United States and abroad. Moreover, she has been a mentor to hundreds of scholars who come to work in the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.”

Barnett has transformed the public’s understanding of the role of religion in the Holocaust,” added Ian Baucom, the University’s provost and former dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “Professor Barnett’s teaching on the Holocaust will empower our students with knowledge and enrich our academic community with expertise in crucial ways.”

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