David Nirenberg

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, 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,[2] and a former fellow at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.[3]

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.[4]

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."[5] 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."[6]

“Anti-Judaism should not be understood as some archaic or irrational closet in the vast edifices of Western thought,” Nirenberg observes in his introduction. “It was rather one of the basic tools with which that edifice was constructed.” And as he ominously concludes, hundreds of pages later, “We live in an age in which millions of people are exposed daily to some variant of the argument that the challenges of the world they live in are best explained in terms of ‘Israel’.”[7]

Described by reviewers "an extraordinary scholarly achievement,"[5] and as a "magisterial work of intellectual history."[8] Anti-Judaism 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."[5]

David A. Bell of Princeton University calls it "quite simply one of the most important pieces of humanities scholarship to appear in many years. supremely learned, beautifully written, and powerfully argued, it takes on nothing less than the Western tradition itself. And it makes a case we cannot afford to ignore."[9] Christopher Smith of King's College London notices 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 duree 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.[10] Some historians, while praising Nirenberg's oeuvre, have expressed dissatisfaction with the parts concerning contemporary history.[11]

Communities of Violence; Persecution of Minorities in the Middle AgesEdit

Nirenberg's "important"[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] It has also been criticized for facile use of functionalist Anthropology and of the essayist René Girard's model.[15]


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). ISBN 022637985X.
  • Judaismus als Politischer Begriff, Historische Geisteswissenschaften Frankfurter Vorträge, Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen (October 2013).
  • Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, W.W. Norton (2013). ISBN 0393347915.
  • 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). ISBN 9780691165769.

Selected ArticlesEdit

See alsoEdit

External LinksEdit


  1. ^ Nirenberg, David (2015). Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Princeton University Press. pp. xviii.
  2. ^ "David Nirenberg Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences". University of Chicago. April 20, 2016. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  3. ^ katzcenterupenn. "David Nirenberg". Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Retrieved 2020-07-29.
  4. ^ "The Department of History, University of Chicago: David Nirenberg". Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c Walzer, Michael (March 20, 2014). "Imaginary Jews". The New York Review Of Books. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  6. ^ Grafton, Anthony. "Imaginary Jews: The strange history of antisemitism in Western culture". New Republic. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
  7. ^ Fredriksen 2013.
  8. ^ Publishers Weekly quoted in Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition
  9. ^ David A. Bell, Princeton University, quoted in Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition
  10. ^ Christopher Smith (2014). Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition. Reviews in History. ISBN 9780393058246.
  11. ^ Maurice Kriegel (2014). "L'esprit tue aussi". Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales. Juifs « textuels » et Juifs « réels » dans l’histoire. 69 (4): 875–899. doi:10.3917/anna.694.0875.
  12. ^ Review by Ann Kuzdale, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 66 (1), Spring, 1998.
  13. ^ Mark D. Meyerson (April 1999). "Review". Speculum. 74 (2).
  14. ^ Ann Kuzdale (Spring 1998). "Review". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 66 (1).
  15. ^ Philippe Buc (1998). "À propos de Communities of Violence de David Nirenberg (note critique)". Annales. 52 (6): 1243–1249.