Temple University Establishes New Chair in Religion Department

Temple University’s College of Liberal Arts celebrated the dedication of Dr. Leonard Swidler, an internationally renowned religion professor, by establishing an endowed professor chair in his honor. 

Ninety-one years old and teaching at Temple to this day, Swidler gifted the university the means to establish the Arlene and Leonard Swidler Chair for Interreligious Dialogue and Modern Catholic Thought in his will in June. 

Swidler chose to establish the chair to commemorate the religion department’s legacy of international collaboration and universal acceptance. Although Temple will not move to appoint a candidate to the position until next year at the earliest, Swidler hopes that the first person to hold the position will be his fellow religion professor Terry Rey. Swidler served as Rey’s doctoral director, and the two have grown close over the years, with Rey taking over Swidler’s roles as editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (JES) and Dialogue Institute in January 2019. 

Swidler joined Temple’s faculty in 1966, just two years after founding JES with his wife Arlene. Although JES initially began as an intra-Christian endeavor, it soon evolved to encompass an array of international religions and ideologies, including atheism. At the time he was hired, Temple had recently become a state-related university, and Swidler revolutionized the university’s religion department by bringing JES’s mission of openness to the classroom. 

“The Religion Department had Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists...all together,” Swidler said in an interview with the College of Liberal Arts. “Everybody who was in our department was a recognized expert in his or her area. Wherever one came from—China, India, Africa, you name it—she/he was an expert.”

While teaching at Temple, Swidler founded the Dialogue Institute in 1978 as the outreach arm of JES, which helped him incorporate theories discussed in the JES into practical settings. Swidler has also published over 80 books and 200 articles as well as lectured throughout Asia, Europe, Africa and North America.

 Article written by Amelia Winger on behalf of Global Philadelphia Association.