Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan-Kaplan holds a B.A. in Philosophy Summa Cum Laude from Brandeis University; an M.Ed. in Adult Education from Cambridge College/Institute of Open Education; a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Education from Claremont Graduate University; Rabbinic Ordination from ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Ordination Programs; and a Graduate Diploma in Spiritual Direction from the Vancouver School of Theology.
Dr. Duhan-Kaplan is also Professor Emerita of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte and Rabbi Emerita of Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver. While at UNC Charlotte, Laura received teaching awards from four different organizations, including the Carnegie Foundation’s U.S. Professor of the Year award (2001).
Her books include Philosophy and Everyday Life; Family Pictures: A Philosopher Explores the Familiar (Open Court, 1998); The Infinity Inside: Jewish Spiritual Practice Through a Multi-Faith Lens (Albion-Andalus, 2019); and The Multi-Species Mind of God: Animal Narratives in the Hebrew Bible (Cascade, forthcoming, 2021).
Dr. Duhan-Kaplan has also served as scholarly editor for seven anthologies in philosophy, peace studies, and inter-religious studies. Recent co-edited projects include Encountering the Other: Christian and Multi-faith Perspectives (Pickwick, 2020), Spirit of Reconciliation: A Multi-faith Resource (Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2020).
She is active in the Vancouver community as a guest lecturer on spiritual, multifaith and Jewish topics; a synagogue musician and prayer leader; a retreat leader; and an organizer of community conferences and events, including VST’s annual Inter-Religious conference.
Dr. Duhan-Kaplan, who grew up in New York City, is a dual Canadian-American citizen. She is married to psychologist Charles Kaplan. Together they are musical partners in the band Sulam, 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.