UCR’s Nyitray to Teach Special Course in Celebration of 50 Years of UC Education Abroad Program

“Religion, Secularism, & Civil Societies in Europe & the U.S.” one of five month-long, faculty-led courses available to UC students

Students participating in Professor Vivian-Lee Nyitray’s course on Religion, Secularism and Civil Societies will visit The Netherlands and Germany before returning to Washington, D.C. Pictured is The Dutch Parliament Buildings on Hofvijver Lake in The Hague.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — As many as 30 University of California students will join University of California, Riverside Professor Vivian-Lee Nyitray on an exploration of “Religion, Secularism, & Civil Societies in Europe & the U.S.” It is one of five special faculty-led summer programs in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP).

Professor Vivian-Lee Nyitray

Professor Vivian-Lee Nyitray

Nyitray, who is the chair of the UC Riverside Department of Religious Studies, will lead the four-week course that visits Amsterdam, Utrecht, Leiden and The Hague in the Netherlands, Berlin, Germany, and Washington, D.C. The course will explore the struggle that modern nation states face as they strive to preserve their society’s core values while accepting different religious beliefs and social customs.

Nyitray said the idea for the course, which runs from July 28 through August 25, 2012, came out of her experiences teaching undergraduate students, who didn’t realize the role that religion plays in their day-to-day lives.

“Students always tell me, ‘I never realized how deeply ingrained religion is,’” she said. “They had no idea that their laws, their customs, often derive from theological doctrine and practice and don’t understand the consequences of not understanding the role of religion in society.”

“I wanted to create a course where our students could go to a country (the Netherlands) that prides itself on a history of tolerance, but now struggles with the question of ‘what do we mean by that?’ Then to Germany, where there is a whole different history of relations between religions and the state,” she added.”Then we will bring those lessons home, literally, by visiting Washington, D.C. and exploring the role religion plays in the daily lives of Americans.”

Her goal for students in the course is simple. “My goal is to come back with a group of students who will be energized to be informed citizens, who will really understand what is behind the rhetoric,” she said. “I want them to be able to talk comfortably about religion in the public sphere.”

Nyitray said students will keep a multimedia journal of their travel and will write for the course’s blog.

“We are going to suggest that they have their family and friends follow the blog to keep up with where we are and what we’ve done,” she said. “In the multimedia journal, they can upload their pictures, link to news items and websites for places we’ve been or items of particular interest. I want them to create an ongoing, evolving reflection of what they are learning so that, in the end, they can watch their own thinking evolve on this as we go.”

Nyitray, who has taught at UCR since 1991, is no stranger to EAP. She spent two stints as the University of California resident study center director in the Netherlands from 2002 to 2004 and again from 2006 to 2007. At its peak, she oversaw seven programs in four cities with about 100 students. Since 2009 she has served as a faculty consultant, providing academic oversight and guidance for students in the program.

Students pose in front of the Reichstad, the German Parliament building in Berlin.

Hers is one of five faculty-led programs offered by EAP to all UC students. The programs are open to both undergraduate and graduate students. The other four programs are “21st Century Technologies & the Digital Divide (Europe),” “A Journey through Time: Geology & Civilization (United Kingdom),” “The Story of Jews in German-Speaking Europe: 500–2012,” and “Food, Religion, & Culture in the Middle East.”

Nyitray will be assisted in the course by her daughter, Shady Grove Oliver, who is a 2009 graduate of UCR and a three-time participant in the Education Abroad Program. Oliver, who recently earned her Master of Science in narrative medicine from Columbia University, speaks Dutch, German and Spanish and is also a certified emergency medical technician. Her presence and experience will allow Nyitray to put her emphasis into teaching the course.

The programs are open to both undergraduate and graduate students and will earn a grade and UC credit. Applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA. Applications are due by April 13, 2012. Financial aid is available and the UCEAP office recently announced that a total of $10,000 in new scholarship money is available.

Nyitray said she was excited by the response to her class, especially by the fact that many UCR students have signed up for what could be a life-changing experience. “UCR students typically are underrepresented in EAP programs,” she said. “I think this is a great opportunity to demonstrate to EAP and the rest of the campuses that our students are interested and willing to go abroad.”

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-4756
E-mail: john.warren@ucr.edu

Additional Contacts

Vivian-Lee Nyitray
Tel: (951) 827-1251
E-mail: vivian-lee.nyitray@ucr.edu

Emilia Doerr, UCEAP
Tel: (805) 893-2394
E-mail: edoerr@eap.ucop.edu

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