Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan Kaplan holds a B.A. Summa Cum Laude from Brandeis University (1980), a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Education from Claremont Graduate University (1991), Rabbinic Ordination from ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal seminary (2005), and a Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction from the Vancouver School of Theology (2010).
From 1989-2004, Laura served as Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and for seven years coordinated the university’s Women’s Studies program. Her books include Philosophy and Everyday Life, Family Pictures: A Philosopher Explores the Familiar, and two co-edited volumes on the Philosophy of Peace. For her innovative work helping students use philosophy to explore their life narratives, she received five teaching awards, including the Carnegie Foundation’s U.S. Professor of the Year award and an honorary Doctor of Pedagogy degree from Niagara University.
Laura arrived in Vancouver in 2005, where she served for nearly ten years as Rabbi at Or Shalom Synagogue. Since 2005, she has also been a core faculty member at the ALEPH seminary. She has served as co-chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress Jewish-Christian dialogue, led weeklong summer workshops at the United Church’s Naramata Centre, and taught at VST and UBC Religious Studies as an adjunct faculty member. She is a fellow at Rabbis Without Borders, a progressive, pluralistic U.S.-based Jewish think tank. Laura’s most recent publications explore the phenomenology of prayer and images of animals in the Hebrew Bible.
Laura, a native of New York City, is married to psychologist and musician Charles Kaplan. Together they are parents of two young adults, and caretakers of a changing array of companion animals.
While I am Jewish by formation, practice, and ethnicity, my education has been eclectic. Three graduate degrees, a graduate diploma and a professional certificate introduced me to multiple spiritual paths: Western philosophy, Jewish rabbinics, Christian spiritual direction, Jungian psychology, and Ayurvedic yoga. In my interdisciplinary Ph.D. dissertation, I argued for broad definitions of critical thinking, including reasoned argumentation, political critique, and metaphorical creativity.
Area of teaching specialty?
Inter-Religious Studies, where we explore Abrahamic and Indigenous traditions from multiple theological perspectives. Jewish Studies, where I introduce midrashic (traditional Jewish) principles of Biblical interpretation and kabbalistic (mystical) perspectives on spirituality.
What makes you passionate about teaching?
I love to teach because I love to learn with students. I understand learning as both “making the strange familiar” and “making the familiar strange” – integrating new information and seeing from new perspectives. Our heart commitments deepen through intellectual examination, and our intellects come to greater life when feelings illuminate ideas. As we reach towards and beyond the previous boundaries of our thought, we glimpse the greater consciousness of God.
What inspires you about teaching at VST specifically?
At VST, students and faculty share an ecumenical adventure. We cross denominational and faith languages to discuss multiple perspectives on God, social change, and spiritual community. We educate the whole person, working on thought, feeling, and practice.
What kind of student do you love having in your class?
I love a diverse group, including research, ministry, and pastoral leadership students. When three different approaches meet in a classroom, we all find something challenging. By sharing the challenge, we contribute to mind-opening moments, develop empathy, and grow in our spiritual capacities.
Current academic projects?
Currently, I am letting go of the familiar to move into uncharted inter-religious territory. My study of animals in Hebrew Bible is nearly complete. Beginning with the spring 2016 “Encountering the Other” project, I am now facilitating inter-religious scholarship, offering VST as a think tank for scholars, activists and artists.
What do you see the future holding for you in your academic profession?
Because I work at the margins between disciplines and religious traditions, I expect creative tension, challenging me to grow in knowledge and empathy.
What challenges do students face today that may represent new challenges with respect to changes in practices of education?
We have to be fluent in multiple technologies of communication: written books and papers, oral storytelling, and new digital platforms. In a sense, we must “learn how to learn” again.
What gives you hope for church?
Many Christians are leading advocates for peace and justice. Across denominational lines, they work to heal rifts between Abrahamic religions, and advance Canadian Indigenous reconciliation. Peace is a face of God; through this work, God’s face shines.
What advice or guidance would you give to students thinking about coming to VST?
You will change more than you imagined possible; be flexible. You’ll be treated like an adult; be organized. You’ll find some things challenging; be communicative. You’ll become part of a lifelong network of people; be friendly. You’ll grow in spirit; pray.