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David Nirenberg is an American historian, Dean of the Divinity School, and Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor of Medieval History and the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, as well as the former Executive Vice Provost of the University, Dean of the Social Sciences Division, and the founding Roman Family Director of the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society. He has a particular interest in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim thought in Medieval Europe. In addition to the Committee on Social Thought and the Department of History, he is also appointed in the Divinity School and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies, and the College of the University of Chicago.

David Nirenberg
AwardsLaing Prize; Ralph Waldo Emerson Award; Historikerpreis der Stadt Münster; Premio del Rey
Academic background
Alma materPrinceton University
Academic work
Main interestsHistory of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim relations; history of Spain and the Mediterranean; history of ideas
Notable worksCommunities of Violence, Anti-Judaism, Neighboring Faiths


David Nirenberg earned his BA from Yale, where John Boswell introduced him to the study of minorities in Medieval Aragon. He holds a PhD from Princeton, where he studied under Peter Brown, Natalie Davis, and William Chester Jordan.[1] He has held visiting professorships at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas in Madrid, and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and is an Associate of Germany’s Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, as well as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 2006 he joined the History Department at the University of Chicago and the Committee on Social Thought. Between 2014 and 2017 he served as dean of the Social Sciences Division of the University of Chicago. In 2017 he became Executive Vice Provost, and in 2018 he additionally took on the role of Interim Dean of the Divinity School, stepping down from the Provost's office a year later. [2]

Major worksEdit

Anti-Judaism: The Western TraditionEdit

Nirenberg's 2013 book Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition is not a history of anti-Semitism, rather, it focuses "on the role of anti-Judaism as a constitutive idea and an explanatory force in Christian and post-Christian thought—though it starts with Egyptian arguments against the Jews and includes a discussion of early Islam, whose writers echo, and apparently learned from, Christian polemics."[3] Pulling on an array of sources from across the centuries, Nirenberg demonstrates the potency of "imaginary Jews" in "works of the imagination, profound treatises, and acts of political radicalism."[4] Described as "an extraordinary scholarly achievement",[5] Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition argues "that a certain view of Judaism lies deep in the structure of Western civilization and has helped its intellectuals and polemicists explain Christian heresies, political tyrannies, medieval plagues, capitalist crises, and revolutionary movements."[6] Christopher Smith of King's College London argues that Anti-Judaism represents, "the culmination of a career volte-face in respects to his methodological approach. His 1996 work Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages rejected a longue durée history of anti-Semitism." Whereas, "in Anti-Judaism, Nirenberg allows for a continuation of trends in the development of a shared concept of anti-Judaism built on and progressed over" a period of three thousand years.[7]. Some historians, while praising the oeuvre, have not been fully satisfied with the part devoted to contemporary history, for instance Maurice Kriegel. [8]

Communities of Violence; Persecution of Minorities in the Middle AgesEdit

Nirenberg's "important"[9] 1996 book Communities of Violence; Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, challenged interpretations that set inter-communal medieval violence (specifically, attacks on lepers, Jews, and Muslims) into larger teleological frameworks. It argued that each event must be understood in its own terms, in the context of economic and social tensions available for exploitation in a specific time and place. He argues that primacy should be given to understanding the local meaning of inter-communal violent events, and that violent events can be better understood as one of the mechanisms that in fact contributed to social stability and kept the overall amount of violence low. The book makes these broader arguments by focusing on Aragon in the 1300s.

Nirenberg questions the longue duree approach that sets individual riots, attacks and pogroms into a series that he characterizes as a "march of intolerance" culminating in modern events, most notably the Holocaust.[10] The book has been understood as a challenge to the entire concept of minority history, reinterpreting groups often cast as "other" or "marginal" as integral parts of the societies in which they dwelt.[11]. It has also been criticized for facile use of functionalist Anthropology and of the essayist René Girard's model.[12].


List of booksEdit

  • Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics, Brandeis University Press (2015).
  • Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today, University of Chicago Press (October 2014).
  • Judaismus als Politischer Begriff, Historische Geisteswissenschaften Frankfurter Vorträge, Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen (October 2013).
  • Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, W.W. Norton (2013).
  • Judaism and Christian Art: Aesthetic Anxieties from the Catacombs to Colonialism (with Herbert Kessler), University of Pennsylvania Press (2011).
  • Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages, Princeton University Press (1996). Paperback edition, February, 1998. Spanish translation: Comunidades de Violencia: Persecución de minorías en la edad media, Peninsula Editorial (2001); French translation: Violence et minorités au Moyen Age, Presses Universitaires de France (2001).

Selected ArticlesEdit


  1. ^ Nirenberg, David (2015). Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Princeton University Press. pp. xviii.
  2. ^ "The Department of History, University of Chicago: David Nirenberg".
  3. ^ Walzer, Michael. "Imaginary Jews". The New York Review Of Books. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  4. ^ Grafton, Anthony. "Imaginary Jews: The strange history of antisemitism in Western culture". New Republic. Retrieved January 12, 2015.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Walzer, Michael. "Imaginary Jews". The New York Review Of Books. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  6. ^ Walzer, Michael. "Imaginary Jews". The New York Review Of Books. Retrieved March 13, 2014.
  7. ^ Review by Christopher Smith, Reviews in History, March 6, 2014
  8. ^ Maurice Kriegel, "L’esprit tue aussi. Juifs « textuels » et Juifs « réels » dans l’histoire", Annales 69:4, 2014.
  9. ^ Review by Ann Kuzdale, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 66, No. 1, Spring, 1998.
  10. ^ Review by Mark D. Meyerson, Speculum, Vol. 74, No. 2, Apr., 1999.
  11. ^ Review by Ann Kuzdale, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 66, No. 1, Spring, 1998.
  12. ^ Review essay by Philippe Buc, Annales, Vol. 52, No. 6, 1998.