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The seminar investigates the roles of literacy and writing in religious traditions.  Its goal is to serve as a research group for the comparative study of literacy and the uses of writing as a form of communication technology in world religions.  Approaching the relationship between religion and writing through the lenses of literacy and communication technology, the seminar strives to address all media – from inscriptions on stone and clay tablets to internet websites – and all literary genres – from myths and commentaries to divine revelations and hymns – as well as the theoretical and practical implications of the absence, or rejection, of writing.

Seminar Blog

Susan Boynton

Dagmar Riedel

Anya Wilkening

Meeting Schedule

09/29/2022 Hybrid: Faculty House + Zoom
5:00 PM
Literacy, Orality, and Translation: Samuel ibn Tibbon, Michael Scot, and Moses Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed
Lucy K. Pick, University of Chicago


“Literacy, Orality, and Translation: Samuel ibn Tibbon, Michael Scot, and Moses Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed”

Latin readers encountered the Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides (1138-1204 CE) earlier than has hitherto been supposed, leaving traces of their encounter with the text in Toledo before 1220, and forming a textual community that extended to Provence as well as Paris, Rome, and Naples and included both Jews and Christians. These readers constitute a textual community in the strong sense proposed by Brian Stock: Although they were all highly literate in the scholarly languages of their own traditions and produced original written texts of their own, orality was a key part of both their experience of the Guide, and their engagement with each other, especially across religious lines. Evidence for this encounter begins in the Liber de parabolis et mandatis (“Book of parables and commandments”), a Latin translation of one-fifth of the Guide on the commandments as well as an introductory treatise on the interpretation of parables that, I contend, was produced by Samuel ibn Tibbon (ca. 1165-1232), first translator of the Guide from Judeo-Arabic to Hebrew, in collaboration with Michael Scot (ca. 1175-ca. 1235), first translator of Ibn Rushd (Averroes, 1126-1198) from Arabic into Latin and court astrologer to Frederick II (1194-1250). I will explore traces of the translation process used by Samuel and Michael, and evidence for their conversations about the text that remain within this work, and compare them to other translated texts of mutual interest to the pair, especially within the realm of natural philosophy, to discuss both the method and intent of their translations.

10/27/2022 Hybrid: Faculty House + Zoom
5:00 PM
Devotional Songs and Narratives in Iranian Khorasan
Ameneh Youssefzadeh, Independent Scholar

11/14/2022 Hybrid: Faculty House + Zoom
5:00 PM
Jewish Literary Eros: Between Poetry and Prose in the Medieval Mediterranean (book discussion)
Isabelle Levy, Columbia University

01/30/2023 Hybrid: Faculty House + Zoom
5:00 PM

Alison Vacca, Columbia University

02/27/2023 Hybrid: Faculty House + Zoom
5:00 PM

John Glasenapp, St. Anselm College

04/25/2023 Hybrid: Faculty House + Zoom
5:00 PM

Kenneth Baxter Wolf, Pomona College