David Nirenberg

Dean of The Divinity School and the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor, Committee on Social Thought, Department of History, The Divinity School, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Center for Jewish Studies, and the College

PhD (Princeton University)

Much of David Nirenberg’s work has focused on the ways in which Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures constitute themselves by interrelating with or thinking about each other. His 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 later projects he took a less social and more hermeneutical approach, exploring the work that “Judaism,” “Christianity,” and “Islam” do as figures in each other’s thought. 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), Nirenberg attempted to apply the methodology toa very longue durée, studying the work done by pagan, Christian, Muslim, and secular thinking about Jews and Judaism in the historyof ideas. More recently, in Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism Medieval and Modern (2014), he brought the social into conversation with the hermeneutic, in order to show how, in multireligious societies (particularly those of medieval Spain), interactions between lived experiences and conceptual categories shape how adherents of all three religions perceive themselves and each other. His most recent book, Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics (2015), focused on how thinking about Judaism shaped the ways in which Christian cultures could imagine the possibilities and limits of community and communication.  Nirenberg has also engaged in contemporary debates about the possibility of overcoming those limits, in essays such as  "The Politics of Love and Its Enemies” and “Badiou’s Number: a Critique of Mathematics as Ontology” (the latter with Ricardo Nirenberg).

In collaboration with a mathematician (Ricardo Nirenberg), he is completing a philosophical history of the various types of sameness that underpin the claims of different forms of knowledge (from poetry and dreams, to monotheism, math, and physics), exploring  both the powers and the limits of the sciences and the humanities.  He is currently working on a series of lectures on the relationship between episodes of religious conversion and the emergence of racial discourses, and directing a new research initiative on the historical co-production of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.


Select work: 
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Areas of study: 

—Appointed Executive Vice Provost
—Quoted in an Atlantic article on Charlottesville and anti-Semitism
—Awarded 2017 Historikerpreis der Stadt Münsters for his body of work
—Delivers the University of Chicago 527th Convocation Address [video, 12 minutes]
—Awarded Doctor of Philosophy, Honoris Causa, University of Haifa, 2016
—Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences