Medieval history scholar selected to lead the Institute for Advanced Study

David Nirenberg, the current dean of the divinity school at the University of Chicago, has been chosen to lead the Institute for Advanced Study as its 10th director. He will begin his new position on July 1, succeeding Robbert Dijkgraaf.

During his time at the University of Chicago, Nirenberg previously served as the founding director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, as the dean of social sciences, and as the executive vice provost.

“David’s administrative accomplishments, like the Institute itself, transcend cultural and disciplinary boundaries, providing new frameworks of knowledge to understand society and to realize the power of collective curiosity,” said Nancy Peretsman, vice-chair of the Institute for Advanced Study board and chair of the eight-member director search committee. “David offers the leadership qualities to ensure that IAS remains a significant center for basic research as it approaches its centennial,” she said. “We are thrilled to welcome David as our next director.”

A professor of medieval studies, Nirenberg has studied a wide range of ideas about communication and social relations. “His expansive breadth of knowledge of numerous fields and topics, many of which are directly relevant to the IAS, greatly impressed all of us on the committee. His erudition and his extensive administrative experience make him the perfect scholar to be the Institute’s next director,” said Myles Jackson, a professor in the Institute’s School of Historical Studies.

As the founding director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, he championed a program that provided funding and space for collaborations across every division, school, and laboratory at the university.

“The appointment of a humanities scholar is a bold choice, which departs from several decades of directors trained in science and mathematics, but reaffirms in the strongest sense the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration at IAS,” said Charles Simonyi, chair of the Institute for Advanced Study board. “An energetic and astute leader, David understands that the Institute is a public good in service of society: to be a haven for scholars with a long view ready to share the fruits of their curiosity.”

Born to immigrant parents from Argentina who settled in Albany, New York, Nirenberg earned his bachelor’s degree from Yale University and earned his master’s degree and doctorate degree in history from Princeton University.

An author of numerous books and articles about Christians, Jews, and Muslims of medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, his scholarship has informed the work of social scientists and historians, providing insights into present-day challenges such as racism, Anti-Semitism, hate speech, and inequality. In his first book, “Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages”, Nirenberg explores the concept of religious violence in the Middle Ages. Drawing on research from fourteenth-century France and the Crown of Aragon, which is now part of eastern Spain, he reveals the “associative and dissociative” effects of religious violence and the ways in which such conflict has shaped coexistence among medieval communities. In “Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition”, he considers how foundational anti-Judaism is to the history of the West. In “Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, Medieval and Modern”, he draws a direct link between the history of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle Ages and their relations in the present. He wrote the book “Uncountable: A Philosophical History of Number and Humanity from Antiquity to the Present”,  with his father, mathematician Ricardo Nirenberg.

In 1996 and 1997, Nirenberg was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study.

“Since the Institute’s creation in 1930, discoveries by its faculty have transformed fields from mathematics and physics to anthropology and art history. The Institute has also served the nation and the world through the constant performance of its founding values: that discriminations by gender and race are inimical to excellence, that scholars and ideas must move freely if fundamental knowledge is to flourish, and that when knowledge flourishes, humanity benefits” said Nirenberg. “Both these tasks—discovery and the defense of these values—feel as urgent today as they were at the founding of this marvelous institution that I am so proud to be joining.”

Nirenberg is married to Sofía Torallas Tovar, a professor of classics and Near Eastern languages and civilizations, and a member of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.  He has a son, Alexander Nirenberg, and a stepdaughter, Eira Nylander Torallas.