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2020-2021

Featured Story - Conversion to Islam in the Pre-modern Age

coverUriel Simonson (University of Haifa) and Luke Yarbrough (UCLA), organizers of the 2020–21 IIAS Research Group  “Cultural Brokerage in Pre-modern Islam,”  are celebrating the publication of a new book that they co-edited with Nimrod Hurvitz (Ben Gurion University) and Christian Sahner (University of Oxford).

Their book, Conversion to Islam in the Premodern Age: A Sourcebook, contains 57 primary-source passages that shed light on processes of conversion across the first millennium of Islamic history.   The selections are introduced and translated, from a dozen languages, by more than forty leading scholars.

The co-editors have contributed sweeping introductions on conversion to Islam as a historical phenomenon spanning eras and far-flung locales.

 

 

 

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Many of the selections in the sourcebook illustrate the kind of cultural change—namely, cultural brokerage—that Simonsohn, Yarbrough, and their Research Group are examining this year. “Cultural brokerage” has been invested with subtly different meanings in different academic disciplines. It involves the mediation of cultural change by agents who are deeply embedded in particular historical settings. This mechanism is amply attested in cases of conversion. For example, contributor Daphna Ephrat (Open University of Israel) translates excerpts from a hagiography about the thirteenth-century Sufi master ʿAbdallāh al-Yūnīnī, known as the “Lion of Syria.” Al-Yūnīnī was said to have led several Christians to convert by performing “miracles” that reflect his deep acquaintance with the local culture. In one instance, he reads a greedy Christian peasant’s mind, generously giving him all of his own possessions, which the peasant had been secretly coveting. The peasant converts to Islam in response. This account presents al-Yūnīnī as a cultural intermediary in the sense proposed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu: a figure who assigns value to particular aspects of culture, such as religious values, and convinces others to follow her or him. Tales like this one would have affected the way that contemporary Muslims and non-Muslims imagined the roles of gift-giving and performances of supernatural intuition in catalyzing religious change.

Cultural change is not, of course, always welcomed, particularly when it involves change as potentially profound as religious conversion. Another selection, provided by Ulrich Rebstock (University of Freiburg), highlights another side of conversion: its gradual and uncertain progress in particular regions, here the Songhay Empire on the Niger River. The author of the text is a Muslim firebrand of the fifteenth and sixteenth century named al-Maghīlī. In the text, al-Maghīlī attacks the allegedly insincere and backsliding converts that he observed in this region. In terms of “cultural brokerage,” the North African al-Maghīlī is imposing a new level of severity within what had clearly been a more fluid West African Islam. The people he criticized, meanwhile, were, by their practices, gently adjusting what it meant to practice Islam in their own West African setting.

The Research Group “Cultural Brokerage in Pre-modern Islam” brings together experts on pre-modern Islamic thought, administrative practice, advice literature, gender, trade, empire, and more in order to fine-tune a theory of “cultural brokerage” that is sensitive to the specific dynamics of Islamic history.

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Featured Story - Artist in Residence 2020/21 - Agi Mishol

Agi Mishol, one of Israel’s most prominent and popular poets, is the 2020/21 Artist in Residence at the IIAS.
We are delighted to share with you her recent poem, Corona in the Countryside II, which has also been translated into German and English.

Corona in the Countryside II

Now that death creeps round
and I’m peeled down
to a worn-out sweat suit,
down to lumps of cookie crumbs
and afterwards the striped toothpaste
that bursts from the tube

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Ewout Meijer

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Maastricht University
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Ewout Meijer has been active in forensic psychological research for 15 years. He obtained his PhD in 2008 from the Faculty of Psychology, Maastricht University, and has published about a variety of topics, including deception detection and investigative interviewing. He served as a research fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2011-2012, and chaired the Forensic Psychology section at Maastricht University in 2015-2017.
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Agi Mishol, Photo:Bar Gordon

Agi Mishol

Poet
Israel

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Agi Mishol is one of Israel’s most prominent and popular poets, and the author of 16 volumes of poetry.

Mishol was born in Romania in 1947 to Hungarian-speaking Holocaust survivors. When she was four-years old, her family immigrated to Israel and settled in Gedera. After completing her BA and MA degrees in Hebrew Literature at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mishol launched a literature and creative-writing teaching career, at Ben-Gurion University, Tel Aviv University, and The Hebrew University (where she was Poet-in-Residence in 2007), among other institutions. In 2006, she served as the artistic director of the Jerusalem International Poetry Festival, and since 2011, she has led the Helicon School of Poetry in Tel Aviv. She lives in Moshav Kfar Mordechai, where she grows peaches, persimmons, and pomegranates.

The topics of Mishol’s poetic spectrum encompass flora and fauna, varied and colorful landscapes, love and romance, powerful eroticism, and the observation of the human condition. Her writing balances lyric precision and accessibility to the readers, combining everyday language and colloquial expression with inventive linguistics. Infused with irony and humor, her poems are intimate and personal yet extensive in their human insight. Mishol’s work centers on the bond between humans and the environment, the changing seasons and the circles of nature and life, while resonating the anxieties and pains of Jewish history and reflecting on contemporary Israeli society.

Mishol’s poems have been widely translated and published in books and various anthologies around the world. Some of her poems were composed by various Israeli musicians.

Her accolades include the Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award (2019), the Newman Prize for life achievement in literature (2018), the Italian LericiPea Award (2014), and the Israeli Prime Minister and Yehuda Amichai literature prizes (1995 and 2002, respectively). Mishol was awarded three honorary doctorates – from Tel Aviv University (2014), the Weizmann Institute of Science (2016), and Bar-Ilan University (2018).

Events:

22 February, מחלוני וגם מחלונך: סדנת שירה בהנחיית המשוררת אגי משעול

23-25 June, כי המוח הוא חתיכת רעל: תערוכה משותפת למשוררת אגי משעול ולאמן הרישום יואב ויינפלד

30 July, שיח גלריה: כי המוח הוא חתיכת רעל

 
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Konstan David

David Konstan

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New York University

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Prof. David Konstan's research focuses on ancient Greek and Latin literature, especially comedy and the novel, and classical philosophy. In recent years, he has investigated the emotions and value concepts of classical Greece and Rome, and has written books on friendship, pity, the emotions, forgiveness, and beauty. He has also written on ancient physics and atomic theory and on literary theory, and has translated Seneca’s two tragedies about Hercules into verse. He is currently working on a book on ancient vs. modern conceptions of loyalty, gratitude, love, and grief.

Read more about Professor Konstan here.

 

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chloi balla

Chloe Balla

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University of Crete
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Prof. Chloe Balla is Associate Professor and the Director of the Laboratory of Philosophical Research and Translation at the University of Crete. She is a Plato scholar with a special interest in Plato’s criticism of the sophists and his representation of Socrates, and is currently working on a monograph of Plato’s Phaedo (working title: Only reason left alive: Plato’s Phaedo as an exhortation to philosophy). 

Read more about Professor Balla here.

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david johnson

David Johnson

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Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
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David Johnson is a leading expert in Xenophon's Socratic and non-Socratic writings. He is the author of numerous articles on central issues in this field, and is the co-editor with Gabriel Danzig and Donald Morrison of Plato and Xenophon: Comparative Studies. He is one of the chief instigators of the revival in the study of Xenophon's Socratic writings, and brings a vast knowledge of Xenophon and all the literature surrounding him, both in the fourth century and in modern scholarship.

 

 

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Olga Chernyakhovskaya

Olga Chernyakhovskaya

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Otto-Friedrich Universität Bamberg
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Dr. Olga Chernyakhovskaya is a recent PhD recipient and has already established a name for herself as a leading researcher of Socratic literature. Her book "Socrates bei Xenophon" offers a comprehensive philological and philosophical analysis of Xenophon's Socratic writings. In addition to the book, she has written numerous articles on various aspects of Socratic philosophy. She comes to Xenophon with a strong background in Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, which is a rarity among contemporary scholars.

Read more about Professor Chernyakhovskaya here.

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kulik

Alexander Kulik

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Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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Professor Alexander Kulik's research interests encompass several fields in the humanities. Kulik is an expert on the transmission of texts and ideas from the ancient through the medieval period, with a special interest in the adaptation of Greek concepts in the Judeo-Christian tradition. His linguistic background and experience in tradition criticism, combined with his interest in ancient Judeo-Greek thought, will provide a valuable perspective to our discussion of the history of concepts.

Read more about Professor Kulik here.

 

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James Redfield

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University of Chicago
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Prof. James Redfield is the Emeritus Edward Olson Distinguished Service Professor of Classics at the University of Chicago. James is best known for his seminal work on Homer, Nature and Culture in the Iliad, which offered an anthropological perspective on Homeric society and values, and on the role of poetry and literature within it. Together with his studies of society and values in the later Greek world, this research provides invaluable points of reference for philosophical theories, especially of the Socratic circle. For the past fifteen years, James has been focusing his research on the Greek philosophers in the Socratic circle, and has written several articles on the subject.

Read more about Professor James Redfield here.

 

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Gabriel Danzig

Gabriel Danzig

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Bar-Ilan University
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Prof. Gabriel Danzig is Associate Professor in the Department of Classical Studies at Bar Ilan University. Gabriel has published on Plato and Aristotle's political and ethical thought, and numerous articles on different aspects of Xenophon's writing and thought. His recent articles have placed a special emphasis on the comparative study of Xenophon's ethical and political concepts. Together with Dave Johnson and Don Morrison, he edited a collection of essays from an international conference held in Israel, the first collection we know of on the comparative study of Plato and Xenophon. This project is a natural extension of his previous research.

Read more about Professor Danzig here.

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