David Nirenberg

Executive Vice Provost; Dean of the Divinity School; Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Professor in History, Social Thought, Middle East Studies, and the College

The John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought
The University of Chicago
1130 East 59th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637

Executive Vice Provost, Dean of the Divinity School, Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Professor in History, Social Thought, Middle East Studies, and the College

Much of my work has focused on the ways in which Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures constitute themselves by interrelating 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 social 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. One product of that approach, focused on art history, was (jointly with Herb Kessler) Judaism and Christian Art: Aesthetic Anxieties from the Catacombs to Colonialism (2011). In Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition(2013), I attempted to apply the methodology to a very longue durée, studying the work done by pagan, Christian, Muslim, and secular thinking about Jews and Judaism in the history of ideas. In Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism Medieval and Modern, I tried to bring the social into conversation with the hermeneutic, in order to show how, in multireligious societies (my focus is on Spain), lived experiences of interreligious contact interact with conceptual categories and habits of thought, and how this interaction shapes how adherents of all three religions perceive themselves and each other.  And most recently, in Aesthetic Theology and its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics,” I explored the implications that a long history of thinking about transcendence in terms of the overcoming of Judaism has had on the possibilities of representation in the Western world.

My work on these three religious traditions ranges across literary, artistic, historiographic, and philosophical genres. But even more generally, my interest seems to be in the history of how the possibilities and limits of community and communication have been imagined. To that end I've engaged in some debates about how the possibility of overcoming those limits has been fantasized, such as my essays on the "Politics of Love and its Enemies" and on "Badiou's Number".  In order to explore these more general questions I am engaged in two long-term thematic projects: the first, a history of love's central place in a number of ancient, medieval, and modern idealizations of communication and exchange; and the second, a parallel study of poison as a representation of communication's dangers.


  • 1987-1992: Princeton University, Dept. of History, MA (1989), PhD (1992).
  • 1982-1986: Yale University, AB (1986).

Selected Publications

  • 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). Received John Nicholas Brown Prize, Medieval Academy of America, 2000; Herbert Baxter Adams Prize, American Historical Association, 1999; First Book Prize, the Society for Spanish and Portuguese Studies, 1998; Premio del Rey Prize, American Historical Association, 1997.
  • Wie jüdisch war das Spanien des Mittelalters? Die Perspektive der Literatur, Kleine Schriften des Arye Maimon-Instituts, vol. 7 (Trier, 2005).
  • Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, W.W. Norton (2013).  Published in Great Britain as Anti-Judaism: The History of a Way of Thinking, Head of Zeus (2013). German translation: Anti-Judaismus. Eine andere Geschichte des westlichen Denkens, C.H. Beck/Gerda Henkel Stiftung (2015).  Italian and Hungarian translations forthcoming.
  • Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, Medieval and Modern, University of Chicago Press (2014).  Spanish translation forthcoming, Critica.
  • Aesthetic Theology and its Enemies: Judaism  in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics, 2012 Mandel Lectures, Brandeis University Press (2015).