The Columbia University Seminar on Religion and Writing


February 11, 2021 – Kathryn A. Smith (NYU): Found in Translation: The “Makers” and Making of the Welles-Ros Bible

March 17, 2021 – Umberto Bongianino (University of Oxford, UK): The Manuscript Tradition of the Islamic West: Maghribī Round Scripts and the Andalusī Identity

Wednesday, April 21, 2021, noon (NYC) – Julie A. Harris (Independent Scholar, Glencoe, IL): The Bible and the Banker’s Box: Ornament and Meaning in the Carpet Pages of Sephardic Codices

This study emerges out of a collision between two formidable strands of inquiry in the discipline of art history: the phenomenon known as the manuscript carpet page and the topic of nonfigural ornament.  In little of the eloquent writing devoted to these subjects does Jewish art figure prominently.  Nor, until recently, have specialists in Jewish art history been eager participants in theoretical or cross-cultural considerations of form that might shed light on their development and meaning in multi-confessional societies such as medieval Iberia.  Thus, the ornamental carpet pages of Iberian Hebrew Bibles (c.1260-c.1320) remain a relatively unexamined subject.  While the schemata found in these Bibles are Islamic in derivation, it remains challenging to isolate sources for particular patterns.  My paper will examine the close visual correspondence between a carpet page in a Bible associated with the workshop Joshua Ibn Gaon (BNF MS hébreu 21, Tudela c.1300; a digital surrogate of the entire codex is available Open-Access on Gallica at: and an ivory banker’s box – of unknown provenance – in Ourense Cathedral.  In so doing, it links investigations regarding the meaning of ornament and the development of the Hebrew Bible codex in Iberia.

FALL 2021

Dagmara Budzioch (Hebrew University of Jerusalem/University of Wroclaw) – date and title TBA


Eve Krakowski (Princeton) – date and title TBA


Because of Covid-19 the meetings of the Columbia University Seminar 751 are held on ZOOM.  Taking advantage of the digital medium, we are also inviting speakers from outside the tristate area.  To accommodate different time zones and schedules, time and day can change from meeting to meeting.  Moreover, arrangements may be subject to change because of the pandemic, and we apologize in advance for any inconvenience that this may cause.  If you wish to attend a meeting, please email our rapporteur Anya Wilkening (abw2163 [at] 

Columbia University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  University Seminar participants with disabilities who anticipate needing accommodations may contact the Office of Disability Services at 212.854.2388 or  Disability accommodations, including sign-language interpreters, are available on request.  Requests for accommodations must be made two weeks in advance. 

The official page of the Columbia University Seminar 751 is available at  Please contact Dr. Riedel (dar2111 [at], if you have any question about the seminar.  Information about its history is available at  The abstracts of all talks since January 2012 are archived at

Elizabeth Powers, co-chair
Independent Scholar
elizabethmpowers [at]

Dagmar A. Riedel, co-chair
Abdullah ibn Abdul Aziz Fellow, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies/
Columbia University
dar2111 [at]

Anya B. Wilkening, rapporteur
Columbia University
abw2163 [at]

Last updated, 7 April 2021