David Nirenberg

Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor of Social Thought, Medieval History, Fundamentals, Middle East Studies, Romance Languages & Literatures, and the College (on leave 2021-22)
Foster 308
Office Hours: Office Hours: On Leave
PhD, Princeton University, 1992

Much of my work has focused on the ways in which Jewish, Christian, and Islamic cultures constitute themselves by inter-relating 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 later projects I took 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. More recently, in Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism Medieval and Modern (2014), I tried to bring the social into conversation with the hermeneutic, in order to show how, in multireligious societies (my focus was, as it so often 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.

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. That was the goal of my most recent book, Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics (2015). And it has also been the goal of my engagement in contemporary debates about how the possibility of overcoming those limits has been fantasized in contemporary politics and philosophy, such as my essays in the New Republic on the encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI, or my pieces in Critical Inquiry ("Politics of Love and Its Enemies" and "Badiou's Number: a Critique of Mathematics as Ontology," the latter with Ricardo Nirenberg). 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. And finally, as is a tradition here at the University of Chicago, I am also interested in exploring the grounds of possibility for knowledge. To that end I am collaborating with a mathematician (Ricardo Nirenberg) on a book exploring the various types of sameness that underpin the relative claims of different forms of knowledge, in the hope of discovering new ways of understanding both the powers and the limits of the sciences and the humanities.


Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, twentieth-anniversary edition with new preface, 2016.

Aesthetic Theology and Its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2015.

Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2014.

Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013.

Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996; paperback edition, 1998. Spanish translation: Comunidades de Violencia: Persecución de minorías en la edad media. Peninsula Editorial, 2001; French translation: Violence et minorités au Moyen Age. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2001.

  • 2000 John Nicholas Brown Prize, Medieval Academy of America
  • 1998 Herbert Baxter Adams Prize, American Historical Association
  • 1998 Best First Book in Iberian History, Society for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies
  • 1996 Premio del Rey Prize, American Historical Association

Edited Volumes

Coedited with María Elena Martínez and Max Hering Torres. Race and Blood in Spain and Colonial Latin America. LIT-Verlag, 2012.

Coedited with Herbert Kessler. Judaism and Christian Art: Aesthetic Anxieties from the Catacombs to Colonialism. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011.

Selected Articles

"What Is Islam? (What Is Christianity? What Is Judaism?)." Raritan 35 (Fall 2016): 1–14.

"Love." In What Reason Promises: Essays on Reason, Nature, and History, edited by Wendy Doniger, Peter Galison, and Susan Neiman, 46–54. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016.

With Leonardo Capezzone. "Religions of Love: Judaism, Christianity, Islam." In The Oxford Handbook of the Abrahamic Religions, edited by Adam Silverstein and Guy G. Stroumsa, 518–535. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

"Power and Piety: Is the Promotion of Violence Inherent to Any Religion?" Nation (Apr. 29, 2015).

"Posthumous Love in Judaism." In Love After Death: Concepts of Posthumous Love in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, edited by Bernhard Jussen and Ramie Targoff, 55–70. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2015.

"'Judaism' as Political Concept: Toward a Critique of Political Theology." Representations 128 (Fall 2014): 1–29.

"'Judaism,' 'Islam,' and the Dangers of Knowledge in Christian Culture, with Special Attention to the Case of King Alfonso X, 'the Wise,' of Castile." In Mapping Knowledge: Cross-Pollination in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Arabica Veritas, vol. I, edited by C. Burnett and P. Mantas-España, 253–76. Cordoba: Oriens Academica, 2014.

"Sibling Rivalries, Scriptural Communities: What Medieval History Can and Cannot Teach Us about Relations between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam." In Faithful Narratives, edited by Andrea Sterk and Nina Caputo, 63–82. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014.

"Christian Love, Jewish 'Privacy,' and Medieval Kingship." In Center and Periphery: Studies on Power in the Medieval World, edited by Katherine L. Jansen, G. Geltner, and Anne E. Lester, 25–37. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Coauthored with Ricardo Nirenberg. "Badiou's Number: A Critique of Mathematical Ontology." Critical Inquiry 37, no. 4 (2011): 583–614. Response by Alain Badiou and a reply by us, "Critical Response." Critical Inquiry 38 (2012): 362–87.

"From Cairo to Cordoba." Nation (June 1, 2011).

"When Philosophy Mattered." New Republic (Feb. 3, 2011): 39–43.

"Shakespeare's Jewish Questions." Renaissance Drama (2010): 77–113.

"Double Game: Maimonides in his World." London Review of Books (Sept. 23, 2010): 31–32.

"Anti-Zionist Demography." Dissent (Spr. 2010): 103–9.

Affiliated Departments and Centers: Center for Jewish Studies, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Committee on Medieval Studies, Divinity School, Fundamentals, John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought