Photo of Laura Galles

Laura Galles

Brain & Behavioral Sciences (College of HHS) 
Minor in Jewish Studies & Philosophy

What motivated you to add Jewish studies as a minor?

I have always loved learning about people’s traditions and beliefs. I initially took JWST 330 (Introduction to Jewish Studies) as an elective, but Dr. [Olga] Lyanda-Geller helped me to realize I can also dive deep into biblical materials and pondering the “big life questions” at Purdue. I absolutely loved the class, particularly learning about some of the more popular Jewish interpretations of Christian Old Testament/Jewish TaNaK passages, such as the Book of Job, and popular biblical themes such as original sin, free will, the role of law, and tradition.

Although I only got a brief glimpse into Judaism, my JWST 330 course sparked lots of questions and presented me with numerous recommended readings for further study. So, I approached Dr. Lyanda-Geller to see if she would be interested in helping me discuss some of these readings in the form of an independent study, and the minor flowed naturally from there. I’m also very Catholic, so my studies evolved over time into studying ancient Judaism, which has really helped me to better understand, appreciate, and explain the cultural roots and traditions of my own faith.


I understand that your major is HHS (brain and behavioral sciences) and that you’re also minoring in philosophy and Jewish studies. Did you choose those three because they are all personal interests or are there important ways that the three different educational tracks complement one another?

They are definitely personal interests of mine, but I think they can relate to one another when it comes to understanding the human mind and person more fully, and then using this insight to better serve people. I find philosophy and religion, specifically Jewish studies, to be really good ways to engage the mind, body, and spirit. The arts really challenge people to critically think about the whys instead of just the hows, which at Purdue, I, along with many other STEM students have had many classes dedicated to.

As a BBS major, I noticed an immediate similarity between the Jewish concept of the Yetzer Ha-Ra and the Yetzer Ha-Tov (“primitive/evil” and “good” instincts) and Freud’s infamous id/ego psychodynamic theories. Most people don’t really think about Sigmund Freud, who was a self-proclaimed atheist by the end of his life, as being raised in a Jewish family, but he was, and his upbringing definitely influenced how he approached understanding and helping people.

I feel like my psychology education places a big significance on being culturally competent when interacting with certain people in a clinical setting, and I figured the best way to broaden my cultural competency is to study other cultures and ways of thinking. I know that in the future, I want to work with young adults and children who struggle in school, and I hope that each of these minors help me to be more culturally competent, empathetic, and able to connect students in order to help them.


What has been your favorite course or experience in the Jewish studies program?

I have personally loved both my independent studies that I was able to conduct with Dr. Lyanda-Geller (JWST 590) and Dr. Thomas Ryba (PHIL 590). In JWST 590, I read any and everything Dr. Lyanda-Geller recommended, such as Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed, Martin Buber’s I and Thou, and Chaim Potok’s The Promise.

I grew in my understanding of the everyday life of Jewish believers, particularly what it might be like to grow up as a Hasidic Jew and study psychology in a secular school. I learned so much, and it was very rewarding to discuss all of my questions every week one-on-one with my professor and get a better understanding of Jewish culture, its complexity, and some of the more modern issues.

In PHIL 590, I really focused my readings on Judaism during the time of Christ and read well over 12 books in preparation of a paper on any topic of my choosing. I absolutely loved it because I read some pamphlets written around 100 A.D. and dove deep into ancient Jewish texts, such as the Targums.


Is there anything you’ve learned in the program that you found surprising or particularly enlightening?

Gematria is so fascinating. Essentially, Hebrew words also can represent numbers and many yeshiva scholars learn how to use this skill to gain a more spiritual understanding of biblical texts. For example, in the context of the commandment “honor thy father and mother,” the Hebrew word for honor (כבד) has the value of 26, and the word for love (אהבה) has a value of 13; one might conclude that one honors his parents by showing a double portion of love.


Do you have any advice to share with students who may be considering Jewish studies as a major or minor?

Just do it. It’s worth it, even if you have no previous experience studying any religion or culture. Also, not all Jewish people are religious, so even though I took a particularly religious route for my minor, does not mean that you have to as well. You can really make if it what you want. The curriculum has a lot of flexibility, which is great. You might even find yourself asking questions you never thought of before. Also, definitely take at least one Hebrew class. It’s a struggle at first, but I find understanding the language is one of the best ways to understand the culture.


What would you like to do professionally after graduation (also educationally if you’re planning to do grad school next)?

I’m applying to a few Ed.S school psychology and Ph.D. school psychology programs. I hope to work as a school psychologist for a few years to help support students and their teachers as an expert in learning, behavior, and mental health. (But don’t worry I plan to use both my minors for sure as I continue to volunteer as a catechist in whatever local church I become affiliated with).

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