Statement from Faculty of the Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania, on Desecration of Jewish Cemeteries - 2/28/2017

As Philadelphians and Religious Studies scholars, we are deeply shocked and troubled by the recent desecration of over 100 Jewish gravestones at the Mount Carmel cemetery. This act goes beyond vandalism. Cemeteries are sacred places. Respect for the dead and their remains are among what most unifies different religions and cultures across history and geography. Desecrating these gravestones not only communicates disrespect for the dead, and their Jewish identities, but also disrupts the bonds that connect us as human beings.

This heinous act is an attack on the long history of Jews in Philadelphia, to which the cemetery stands as witness. This attack is part of a broader pattern of acts of religious intolerance across America that have escalated during the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump. The specific perpetrators and their motives may be unknown at present, but this pattern reflects a political climate in which both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are more widespread, and seemingly acceptable within public discourse, with little or no response from The President of the United States. As Religious Studies scholars, we call on President Trump, and his administration, to denounce these acts, and to pledge that the Justice Department and local authorities will prosecute the perpetrators. Religious freedom is one of the most cherished freedoms that our Founders sought, and it is important that we continue to uphold the values that have formed the core of our nation since 1776.

Anthea Butler, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies, and Graduate Chair of Religious Studies

Jamal J. Elias, Walter H. Annenberg Professor in the Humanities, and Professor of Religious Studies and South Asia Studies

Justin McDaniel, Professor, Department Chair, and Undergraduate Chair of Religious Studies 

Annette Yoshiko Reed, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for Ancient Studies

Megan Eaton Robb, Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions

Steven P. Weitzman, Abraham M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures, and Ella Darivoff Director of the Katz Center of Advanced Judaic Studies