UCLA International Institute, February 1, 2017 — The Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) will launch its Averroës Lecture Series on February 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm with a presentation by Professor Orit Bashkin of the University of Chicago, “Jewish Childhood in Ottoman and Independent Iraq.”
Underwritten by a generous anonymous donor, the new lecture series will focus on Jewish communities living in Muslim lands prior to the 20th century. In addition to shedding light on this often-neglected history, the lectures will serve an important outreach role to local community colleges and high schools in the Los Angeles metropolitan region, inviting students interested in the topic to attend the discussions. Admission is free.
Organized by CNES, the Averroës Lecture Series is cosponsored by UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies (CJS) and Center for the Study of Religion. The program will offer quarterly lectures over two years by experts from around the world, publish an occasional paper series and culminate in a major conference featuring young scholars engaged in cutting-edge research on the topic.
The series is dedicated to Averroës, the Latin name of ibn Rushd, the 12th-century Andalusian polymath whose philosophical works integrated Islamic traditions with ancient Greek thought. Over subsequent centuries, his commentaries on Plato and Aristotle influenced Jewish and Christian thinkers throughout Europe, among them Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas and Baruch Spinoza.
“The choice of Averroës as the name for the Lecture Series is significant because it points to a history of Cordoba’s Jewish-Muslim relations and the connections between Averroës and Maimonides, both of whom were committed to intellectual exchange and communal life across religious boundaries,” says Aomar Boum, Associate Professor of Anthropology and a member of advisory committee for the Series.
“By revisiting the histories of Jewish-Muslim relations, we hope to teach our students and remind ourselves of the resonance between the intellectual dialogue and communal exchange that took place across Muslim lands, and our own mission as a university serving a multi-ethnic and multi-religious student population,” he continues. “The Averroës Lectures will make a significant contribution to intellectual life on our campus.”
Returning to a broader, historical lens
“The multiethnic, multiconfessional identity of the Middle East often gets obscured when we think of the Middle Eastern region in terms of ancient ethnic hatreds,” says CNES Director Aslı Ü. Bâli, professor of international and human rights law at UCLA School of Law. “In truth, it’s a region that’s much more characterized by ancient ethnic bonds and ties — across religions, across tribes, across ethnicities.”
“UCLA is actually very well situated to refocus on these histories of coexistence and shared communities,” she remarks. “The lecture series will remind us of the pluralism that long prevailed in the region, diminishing the temptation to view the Middle East through the lens of sectarian strife.”
David Myers, professor and Sady and Ludwig Kahn Chair in Jewish History at UCLA and a member of advisory committee for the lecture series, agrees. “Hosting the Averroës Lectures at UCLA builds on our university’s strength in this field, with a remarkably large number of faculty whose research touches on this topic and a wealth of research centers supportive of the project,” he says.
Two lectures already planned
Each lecture in the two-year series will feature a distinguished scholar of Middle East Studies, who will speak on a facet of Jewish life in the Muslim world from the Middle Ages through the early twentieth century. Their presentations will be published in an occasional paper series dedicated to the Averroës Lectures.
Orit Bashkin’s presentation in February will focus on the ways in which Iraqi Jewish children from a variety of class and geographical backgrounds were affected by Iraq’s sociopolitical and religious divisions, all the while experiencing different aspects of Iraqi modernity. A distinguished historian of the region, Bashkin’s research focuses on Iraq and the history of Iraqi Jews. The talk will take place at 5 pm in the conference room of the James West Alumni Center, to be followed by a reception.
The next lecture in the series, “Beyond Honor and Shame: Rabbinic Control of Jewish Women in Medieval Egypt,” will be delivered by Professor Eve Krakowski of Princeton University on May 8, 2017 at 5 pm. A specialist on gender, kinship and rabbinic legal practice among Jews in Fatimid and Ayyubid Egypt, Krakowski is currently completing a two-year American Council of Learned Societies Collaborative Fellowship on “Documents and Institutions in the Medieval Middle East.” Please note that this presentation will take place in a different location, the conference room of Royce Hall, room 314.
The new lecture series promises to shed new light and reinvigorate research on the history and bonds of multiethnic communities throughout the region. Lectures for the 2017–18 academic year will be finalized and announced in late summer or early fall of this year.