Vasileios Syros, Senior Fellow

"Jewish Political and Religious Thought at the Intersection of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period: The interaction of the Jewish and Christian political and religious traditions between the Mediterranean and the Alps."


During my year at the Martin Marty Center I will be working on a project tentatively entitled “Jewish Political Thought at the Intersection of the ‘Medieval’ and the ‘Modern’: The Interaction of Jewish and Christian Political Traditions between the Mediterranean and the Alps.” Although in recent years there has been a surge of interest in the history of medieval and early modern Jewish political thought and Jewish-Christian relations, there remains a genuine need to examine the ways in which Jewish political authors engaged in dialogue with their immediate Christian milieu; perceived the political developments of their time; and elaborated on biblical exempla and Scholastic and humanist literature to articulate their political ideas.

My study will examine the largely overlooked contribution of Jewish political thinkers living in the Christian environment to debates about the ideal form of political organization, the modes of political conduct conducive to efficient and lasting rule, and the qualities of the ideal ruler. To this end, I will be investigating the political ideas of three seminal Jewish political thinkers who lived and wrote in the medieval and early modern Spanish and Italian contexts: Profayt Duran (d. ca. 1414), Isaac Ben Moses Arama (ca. 1420–94), and Don Isaac Abravanel (1437–1508). My project will consist in 1) recovering and presenting hitherto unexplored material in Hebrew and Latin and proposing a means to integrate this into the study of European political thought; 2) offering new insights into the challenges that confronted the Jewish communities in the Iberian context and Italy in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period to reassess their role in the intellectual life of their time; and 3) revisiting the interaction between the Jewish and Scholastic traditions of learning and tracing the reception of Scholastic political ideas in medieval and early modern political writing.

One of the major novelties of my project is that it challenges the “traditional” canon of European political thought and attempts to bring new thinkers to the fore while exploring the role played by hitherto neglected political writers in the formation of European political ideas. I seek to demonstrate that political ideas that have been seen as distinctly “modern” had a distinct career in medieval Jewish political writing and that the figures that form the subject of my project are representative of a group of political authors that anticipated and foreshadowed ideas that resurfaced later in such political writers as Machiavelli.

Given the Martin Marty Center’s emphasis on interdisciplinary research, I am confident that the MMC is an ideal venue for the realization of my project. I also consider the MMC’s symposia to be an excellent opportunity for me to share the findings of my recent research with other colleagues and help me expand my research agenda and explore the topic of my research from diverse angles. I also look very much forward to learning more about the research of the other fellows as well as to a closer interaction with other colleagues and students from the Divinity School and other academic units of the University of Chicago.