David Nirenberg

Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Social Thought, Medieval History, Middle East Studies, and the College; Member of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge; Dean of the Social Sciences Division
PhD 1992 Princeton University

Foster Hall, room 308 – Office
(773) 702-3423 – Office telephone
(773) 834-1968 – Fax

Mailing Address

The University of Chicago
Committee on Social Thought
1130 E. 59th Street, Box 35
Chicago, IL 60637


Field Specialties

Christians, Jews, and Muslims in medieval Europe and the Mediterranean; Medieval ideas about communication, exchange, and social relations


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. Most recently, in Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism Medieval and Modern, I've 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.

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.


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. Review by Michael Walzer in the New York Review of Books.

Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Princton, 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.

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.

Coauthored with James Clifton and Linda Neagley. The Body of Christ in the Art of Europe and New Spain, 1150–1800. Munich: Prestel Verlag, 1997.

Selected Articles

Coauthored with Richardo 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): 362–387.

"Die moderne Vorbildfunktion des mittelalterlichen Spanien." Münchner Beiträge zur Jüdischen Geschichte und Kultur 5 (2011): 7–29.

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

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

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

"Double Game: Maimonides in his World." London Review of Books 32, no. 18 (September 23, 2010): 31–32.

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

"L'Indécision Souverain: Génocide et Justice en Valencia, 1391." In Un Moyen Age pour aujourd'hui: mélanges offerts à Claude Gauvard. Edited by Julie Claustre, Olivier Mattéoni, and Nicolas Offenstadt. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2010.

"Judentum und Islam in der europäischen Dialektik von Glaube und Vernunft: Anmerkungen zur Geschichtstheologie Papst Benedikts XVI." In Religionskontroversen im Verfassungsstaat. Edited by Hans G. Kippenberg and Astrid Reuter, 181–207. Göttingen: Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2010.

"Wie jüdisch war das Spanien des Mittelalters? Die Perspektive der Literatur." Kleine Schriften des Arye Maimon-Instituts 7 (2005).