Aug 142018

Imagine these scenes:

Christian and Jewish scholars of the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible discussing the Quran with a Jerusalem Imam, while Duke undergraduates and Divinity students ask questions and soak it all in.

An Italian Muslim, who trains teachers in religious pluralism, talking to scholars and students from six universities and three continents about ISIS and the Quran.

These and other similar encounters happened this July in Leipzig, Germany, where the International Network for Interreligious Dialogue and Education (INIRE) held its annual weeklong conference and summer school, this year on “Normative Religious Traditions and their Authority.”

“These interactions are the world as it should be,” says Malachi Hacohen, Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. A professor of history, political science, and religion at Duke, Hacohen was an organizer of this year’s program as well as a participant.

Supported by the Religions and Public Life program at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, Leipzig University, and other members of INIRE, eight Duke students—from Trinity, the Graduate School, and the Divinity School—attended, studied, and socialized with faculty and students from Israel, Egypt, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These researchers in history, the Bible, the Quran, theology, and sociology of religion discussed questions that included whether “holy texts” are relevant for “secular people” today, and what role they play in the dialogue between religions and discourse in our societies.

In addition to discussions and presentations, the Leipzig conference and summer program actively integrated lived experiences and practices to its program. “We not only participated in seminars and academic discussions, but also read and sang sacred texts together, broke bread together, and worshipped together,” said participant Peace Lee, a ThD candidate at Duke Divinity School. “We each experienced the grace of being received into religious traditions not our own…It is the integration of theory and practice, learning and living together, that makes this program truly meaningful.”

The INIRE represents the collaboration of six universities—from Europe, America, and Israel—and a global network of scholars from different disciplines and fields. Religion is approached from interdisciplinary and multi-confessional perspectives, with a view to promoting religious literacy and encouraging interreligious dialogue among scholars, students, and the public. The 2019 INIRE conference and summer program will take place in Groningen, Netherlands, with the topic “Religious Heritage in a Diverse Europe.”

Emily Bowles

Mar 292018
 March 29, 2018  Tagged with:

Religions and Public Life at KIE encourages Duke graduate and undergraduate students to apply to our annual international summer school looking at issues in religion and public life. This year’s program will be held in Leipzig, Germany, July 23-29:

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: these religions rely on normative religious traditions, sometimes called ‘Holy Scriptures’. Today, late-modern or post-modern societies often ask if these normative texts are still meaningful and relevant.

Sponsored by the International Network on Interreligious Research and Education (INIRE), the Leipzig Summer School 2018 brings together researchers and scholars with different religious and professional backgrounds: scholars from Israel, the USA, and Germany, researchers in History, Bible, Quran, Theology, and Sociology of Religion.

The questions asked will include: What roles do “Torah”, “Bible”, and “Quran” play in the three monotheistic religions in the past and present? How are the old texts interpreted today? And how are they used in religious and political discussions? Are ‘holy texts’ relevant for ‘secular people’? And what role do ‘holy texts’ play in the dialogue of religions and discourse in our societies?

Students are asked to send a one-page essay detailing their interest in the program and how it fits into their current course of study. Airfare, lodging, and meals are all included for students selected for the program.

Summer School travel funding is provided by the Center for Jewish Studies at Duke University. The Summer School is co-sponsored by Religions and Public Life at KIE and Leipzig University, with support from other members of INIRE.

Feb 162018
 February 16, 2018  Tagged with:

On February 22, Religions and Public Life will host a seminar featuring a new project by Dr. Michael McVaugh (UNC-CH), Dr. Gerrit Bos (Cologne), and Dr. Joseph Shatzmiller (Duke), speaking on the medieval transmission and translation of Arabic medical texts through the West.

Thursday, February 22
Ahmadieh Family Conference Room,
West Duke Building, Room 101

Abstract: The transforming effect of Islamic learning on medieval European civilization, far more poorly known today than it should be, was facilitated by a flood of Arabic-to-Latin translations of medical and philosophical writings in the years 1000-1300. The interreligious and intercultural aspects of these translations and transmissions are notable: Jews were often intermediates in translation because they could read the Arabic and translate it into the Romance vernacular for the Christian translators to go on and turn into Latin. The speakers will give a summary account of this movement, and then go on to examine its effects more closely by studying one specific medical translation that is an utterly unique witness to the process of Arabic-Latin translation in general—its difficulties and its successes, and its methods, with their combination of faithfulness to the original and successful adaptation to new circumstances. This 12th-c Arabic work exists in a Latin version made by a Jewish scholar who translated the Arabic into the Romance vernacular for a Christian surgeon to turn into Latin, and then made his own Hebrew translation of the same text. The speakers will invite reflections on how far translation can allow one culture’s achievements to be communicated to and internalized by another.

Joseph Shatzmiller is the Smart Family Professor Emeritus in Judaic Studies in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University. He is the author of Shylock Reconsidered: Jews, Moneylending and Medieval Society and a more recent volume on Jews, Medicine, and Medieval Society, along with numerous essays on European Jewry in the Middle Ages. He has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research, and he has taught Jewish history at the University of Haifa and the University of Toronto.

Michael McVaugh is Professor Emeritus and William Smith Wells Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His research focuses on the growth of medical and surgical learning in the Middle Ages, particularly as shaped by the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century universities, and on the concomitant medicalization of European life. Since 1975 he has been a general editor of the collected Latin writings of one of the most famous of medieval physicians, Arnau de Vilanova (d. 1311), a series now nearly complete. Most recently he has been engaged in a series of studies investigating aspects of the process of translation of medical literature in the Middle Ages: translations between Arabic and Latin, between Hebrew and Latin, and between Latin and the European vernaculars.

Gerrit Bos is Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Martin-Buber-Institut at Cologne University. His main fields of research are medieval Jewish-Islamic science, especially medicine, medieval Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic. Current projects include developing critical editions of Maimonides’ medical works, and editing and translating previously unpublished middle Hebrew medical-botanical texts. (Dr. Bos will be unable to join the seminar at this time.)

For more information, please contact Amber Díaz Pearson. Those coming from outside of Duke University may request a parking pass.

Nov 032017
 November 3, 2017  Tagged with:

Join Religions and Public Life at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the North Carolina Jewish Studies Seminar for lunch at noon on April 3 for a discussion with Dr. Anna Kushkova: “Memory of the Holocaust and Jewish Identity in Soviet and post-Soviet Ukraine.”

Based on Dr. Kushkova’s field research in the former shtetls of Western Ukraine, this presentation is an attempt to look at several small Jewish survivor communities living in the territory of the former Pale of Jewish Settlement (Ukraine) through the lens of their Holocaust experience. What place does the Holocaust occupy in the structure of these people’s individual and collective identity? How do people speak about the Holocaust, how do their narratives change over different historical periods and under the influence of different external actors, and how do they get appropriated by official political discourses? How do post-Holocaust commemoration practices create specific local lieux de mémoire?

Dr. Anna Kushkova is a visiting scholar at Duke University and holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her dissertation, Navigating the Planned Economy: Accommodation and Survival in Moscow’s Post-War ‘Soviet Jewish Pale’, focuses on Jewish engagement in the marginal and illicit spheres of the Soviet post-WWII rigidly controlled state economy to show a) how Jewish ethnic traditions and social networking can facilitate cultural survival among oppressed minorities and b) how Jewish entrepreneurship in the local networks of production and distribution created a distinct version of Soviet Jewish collective identity. Dr. Kushkova has participated in multiple ethnographic expeditions to the former official Pale of Jewish Settlement (Ukraine, Moldova, Trans-Dniestr Republic) and various research projects on Jewish memory and identity in the large urban settings of St. Petersburg and Moscow.

Tuesday, April 3, Noon-2:00PM
Ahmadieh Family Conference Room,
West Duke Building 101

Please email Amber Díaz Pearson by 10:00AM on April 3 to request a parking pass. A Kosher for Passover lunch will be served.

Oct 202017
 October 20, 2017  Tagged with: , ,

The Cost of Opportunity: Educate to Liberate

Friday, April 20, 2018
8:30 am – 5:30 pm
Divinity School Room 0014W
Duke West Campus

See attached flyer for more details. The complete conference program can be found at The conference will be recorded and live streamed here.

Funded in part by a Kenan Institute for Ethics Campus Grant.

Jun 222017
 June 22, 2017  Tagged with: ,

Religions and Public Life at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, in collaboration with the Duke University Center for Jewish Studies, invites applications for graduate scholars for the academic year 2017-2018. The call is open to graduate and professional students, as well as postdocs, at Duke University wishing to take part in interdisciplinary student-led seminars, focusing on Religions and Public Life, with a special thematic focus on Minorities and Diasporas.

Religions and Public Life at the Kenan Institute for Ethics explores the role of religions in historical and cultural context as they influence the lives of their adherents, interact with each other across time and geography, and contribute to the formation of institutions that make up the public sphere. A joint endeavor with Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and Duke Divinity School, it is an interdisciplinary platform that puts scholars, students, and practitioners in conversation with one another through collaborative research, innovative teaching, and community engagement.

The graduate scholars will have the opportunity to develop their research interests and discuss recent scholarship. Members take active part in the events of Religions and Public Life and commit to attending monthly meetings throughout the academic year. Graduate scholars also commit to writing a think-piece or blog post relating their research to contemporary issues, to be published on the Religions and Public Life website at the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

Graduate scholars will receive funding of up to $1,500 in reimbursements for research expenses.

To apply, please submit the materials listed below to Dr. Amber Pearson ( by July 14, 2017, with subject line: “Religions & Public Life graduate scholars.” Awards will be announced in mid-July. An application should include:

  • A curriculum vita.
  • A one-page abstract for a research project, describing how it connects to Religions and Public Life and the Minorities and Diasporas theme. Please include the topic, objectives of your project, and relevance to the discipline or field of study as well as your academic trajectory. Additionally, please include how your project may contribute to the scholarly community.
  • A research budget. Scholars may be asked to share their research and findings by participating in colloquia or panel discussions during the year of their fellowship or the following year.