The University of Chicago Press has awarded David Nirenberg the 2017 Gordon J. Laing Prize for Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in the Middle Ages and Today. The prize honors a University of Chicago faculty member who writes, edits, or translates a book in the last three years that brings the most distinction to the Press. The Press has honored eleven faculty in the Department of History with twelve prizes, more than any other department.
The president of the University of Chicago, Robert J. Zimmer, presented the award on May 10. He praised the book's sustained thought and sustained argument, which epitomize Chicago's values. For Nirenberg, the Laing Prize is an "amazing and moving ceremony because it honors something so precious—the academic book."
President Zimmer presents Laing Award to David Nirenberg, photograph by Nancy Wong.
In the introduction to Neighboring Faiths Nirenberg asks "how Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities have imagined and reimagined themselves by thinking about and (sometimes) living with each other" in medieval Iberia. He admits that historians make poor prophets, but hopes that past moments of "religious pluralism, massacre and mass conversion, assimilation, segregation, and expulsion" will help the heirs to the past imagine and reimagine the realities of these neighboring faiths in today's world.
Garrett P. Kiely, the director of the Press, explained that Chicago was the first academic press to present such a prize, beginning in 1963. It is named for Gordon Jennings Laing, the general editor of the Press (1909–1921, 1923–1940). Laing also had a long academic career in the university's Department of Latin and helped found The Classical Journal and Classical Philology.
David Nirenberg is the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor. He has taught at the University of Chicago since 2006 and has served as the dean of the social sciences since 2014.
By Joanne M. Berens, MFA'93, jberens[at]uchicago[at]edu