SOAS University of London

Department of Religions and Philosophies

Opening lecture: How Islam Saved the Jews

Prof David J Wasserstein (Vanderbilt University, USA)-
Prof. David J. Wasserstein (Vanderbilt University, U.S.A)

Date: 14 May 2012Time: 5:30 PM

Finishes: 14 May 2012Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: KLT

Type of Event: Seminar

An audio file of the lecture is available here: 

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In the early seventh century C.E. Judaism was in crisis. In the Mediterranean basin it was battered by legal, social, and religious pressure, weak in numbers and culturally almost non-existent. It was also largely cut off from the Jewry of the Persian Empire, in Babylon, present-day Iraq. The future seemed clear: extinction in the West, decline to obscurity in the East. Salvation came from Arabia. Islam conquered the entire Persian Empire and most of the Mediterranean world. Uniting virtually all the world’s Jews in a single state, it gave them legal and religious respectability, economic and social freedoms, and linguistic and cultural conditions that made possible a major renaissance of Judaism and the Jews. The significance of Islam for Jewry has been interpreted very variously since the middle ages and is a source of controversy to this day.

David J. Wasserstein is professor of history, classics and Jewish Studies and inaugural holder of the Eugene Greener, Jr. Chair in Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he has taught since 2004. Between 1990 and 2004 he was a professor of Islamic history at Tel Aviv University. He teaches medieval Islamic and Jewish history. With a background in classical studies, he is especially interested in the ways in which Judaism, Islam and the classical world intersect culturally, linguistically and politically. He is the author of The Rise and Fall of the Party-Kings, Politics and Society in Islamic Spain, 1002-1086 (Princeton 1985); The Caliphate in the West. An Islamic Political Institution in the Iberian Peninsula (Oxford 1993); and, with his late father Abraham Wasserstein, The Legend of the Septuagint, From Classical Antiquity to Today (Cambridge 2006).

Prof. Wasserstein is also the editor and co-editor of several books, including Dhimmis and Others: Jews and Christians and the World of Classical Islam (1997); Daghestan and the World of Islam (2006); Language of Religion - Language of the People: Medieval Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2006); and From Hellenism to Islam: Cultural and Linguistic Change in the Roman Near East (2009).

He has been a Lady Davis Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a visiting Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, and a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Asiatic Society. In 2008-2009 he was a Visiting Fellow at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University.

Organiser: Prof Catherine Hezser

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Contact Tel: 020 7898 4633