The Holstein Family and Community Chair in Religious Studies was made possible by a generous donation to U.C. Riverside from Robert and Loretta Holstein in 1991, which was augmented by donations from family members, friends, and members of the Riverside community. Long-time Riverside residents, the Holsteins had and continue to have an abiding interest in religion and social justice that has always been deeply rooted in their extensive Roman Catholic background: Loretta served for a time as a Dominican sister, and Robert studied for ordination with the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. Robert spent a number of years organizing protests against the School of the Americas, and was jailed in 1997 for civil disobedience at Fort Benning. Already by the time the Holstein Chair was founded, the couple had been integral to the development of U.C. Riverside’s Newman Center, had funded an Urban League scholarship for African American students, and had played an instrumental role in organizing the Survive Food Bank (now known as Feeding America Riverside/San Bernardino Counties). While Robert passed away in 2003, Loretta continues her involvement in religiously-based social justice organizing to this day.
In 2015, following the retirement of Professor Ivan Strenski, the Department of Religious Studies decided to focus their search for a new holder of the Holstein Chair in the area of religion and social justice, and hired Dr. Melissa M. Wilcox as a result of that search. Professor Wilcox will be planning Holstein Chair events that bring the campus and the broader community together to consider various aspects of the intersections between religion and social justice from a variety of academic, activist, and artistic perspectives; the first major event is expected to take place during the 2017-2018 academic year. As events take shape, details will be announced on this page.