San Francisco Harper Lecture w/ David Nirenberg: Can History Help Us Think About Religious Conflict?

Chicago Booth Alumni Club of San Francisco

The University of Chicago Alumni Association

October 24, 2013: 6:00 PM - 8:30 PM

The Harper Lecture series is offered to the University community across the country and around the world by the University of Chicago Alumni Association. Named for the University's first President, William Rainey Harper, the series carries on his vision of broadly accessible and innovative education.


The Palace Hotel
2 New Montgomery Street
San Francisco, California

Event Details

Interreligious conflict is once again at center stage in our geopolitical consciousness and, with it, many questions about the role of scripture in that conflict. Do the respective claims of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic holy texts contribute to the violence between the various communities that read them? Or do they provide a basis for solidarity between the three Abrahamic religions? In this talk, David Nirenberg, the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta professor of medieval history and social thought and founding director of the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society, will examine how the Qur'an, Torah, and New Testament have been read at moments in history—including our own—in order to consider the politics of conflict and community among the "peoples of the Book."

Nirenberg's research has focused on the ways in which Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures interrelate with and think about each other and how they construct themselves through those interrelations. He has written extensively on the interrelations of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; his 1996 Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle received numerous honors, including the 1996 Premio del Rey Prize from the American Historical Association, the 1998 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize of the American Historical Association, and the 2000 John Nicholas Brown Prize of the Medieval Academy of America. His most recent book, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, was published by W. W. Norton in February 2013.


$20 general admission; $10 recent graduate (College alumni of the past ten years and graduate alumni of the past five years).


Register Online

Deadline: 10/17/2013

Speaker Profiles

David Nirenberg (Speaker)
Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Medieval History and Social Thought, The University of Chicago

Much of my work has focused on the ways in which Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures constitute themselves by inter-relating with or thinking about each other. My first book, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, studied social interaction between the three groups within the context of Spain and France, in order to understand the role of violence in shaping the possibilities for coexistence. In more recent projects I have taken a less anthropological and more hermeneutical approach, exploring the work that "Judaism," "Christianity," and "Islam" do as figures in each other's thought about the nature of language and the world. As part of that project, I have undertaken a number of studies into the ways in which European aesthetic practices (such as poetry, painting, and theatre) have constituted themselves through representations of figures of Judaism and Islam. (First fruits of that research were offered in a book I edited with Herbert Kessler: Judaism and Christian Art: Aesthetic Anxieties from the Catacombs to Colonialism, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). On a larger scale, I traced one strand of these histories across the longue durée in my Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (W.W. Norton, 2013). By following the uses and transformations of Jewish figures across the history of thought (from ancient Egypt through to the mid-twentieth century, and including both Christianity and Islam as well as their secular heirs) that book suggests some of the ways in which our own forms of critical thought have been produced by a history of thinking about "Judaism." Writing the later chapters of that book encouraged me to confront some modern and contemporary philosophical debates, producing essays on thinkers such as Hans Jonas, Ernst Cassirer, and Alain Badiou.

My current projects continue along these diverse strands of interest. One, something of a sequel to Communities of Violence, is an archivally based study of the transformation of religious communities and identities (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) in medieval Spain, between the mass conversions of 1391 and the establishment of the Inquisition in the late fifteenth century. A second volume grows out of my 2012 Mandel lectures at Brandeis University, on the work done by figures of Judaism in Western political, poetical, and pictorial theologies: that is, in the efforts of Christian politics, poetry, and art to authorize themselves. A third project, in collaboration with Ricardo Nirenberg, explores the attractions and the dangers of yet another strategy to authorize knowledge: namely the attempt, from the pre-Socratics to the present, to found human thought on the principles of identity, non-contradiction, and sufficient reason.


Kelly Doody