David Nirenberg Receives Prestigious Ralph Waldo Emerson Award

By Jann Ingmire

OCTOBER 13, 2014

The Phi Beta Kappa Society has announced that David Nirenberg, dean of the Social Sciences Division, will receive the 2014 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for his book, Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition. Nirenberg is the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Medieval History and Social Thought.

The Phi Beta Kappa society describes the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, which was established in 1960, as honoring scholarly studies that contribute significantly to interpretations of the intellectual and cultural condition of humanity in the fields of history, philosophy and religion.

“I was very surprised to be on the short list for this award and I was even more surprised to win it,” Nirenberg said. “I think the impact of the book is to show us that the ways in which we think about the world are often shaped by how we have learned to think about Judaism. So many of our most important critical categories in so many different areas of culture—religion, philosophy, economics, poetry and art, even mathematics and physics—have had a long history of learning to distinguish between good and bad by thinking about Judaism.”

One member of the panel that chose Nirenberg’s book wrote, “Anti-Judaism is a depressing book in what it reveals, but it is genuinely elevating in its high moral purpose, in the power of scholarship, and in its marshaling of rhetorical and linguistic resources in services of its lambent argument.”

“I wrote the book because I felt that it is dangerous not to be aware of how history shapes how we can perceive the world,” Nirenberg said.

Dean Nirenberg has a new book, “Neighboring Faiths: Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today,” published this month by the University of Chicago Press. “The new book is much less ‘depressing’ in that it is all about how each of these three religions took shape by looking and thinking about the others,” Nirenberg said. “This ‘co-production’ of religious cultures is an ongoing process that’s really dynamic, whether for good or ill.”

The Phi Beta Kappa Society will present the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award and a $10,000 prize to Nirenberg at a dinner at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in December. Also being honored that evening will be authors receiving the Christian Gauss Award and the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science.


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