The Columbia University Seminar on Religion and Writing

The meetings of the Columbia University Seminar 751 (for the official website, see are usually held on Tuesdays in the Faculty House of Columbia University, 64 Morningside Drive, New York, N.Y. 10027 (for directions, click here).  They begin at 5.00 pm, and around 6.45 pm we will adjourn for dinner in the Faculty House.  If you wish to attend a seminar meeting, please email co-chair Elizabeth Powers (elizabethmpowers [at]

Schedule 2018-2019

October 2, 2018 – Richard W. Bulliet (Columbia University): Arabic Script and Popular Islam in the Southern Philippines

March 12, 2019 – Rachel Zohn Mincer (JTS): The Increasing Reliance on Ritual Handbooks in Late Medieval Ashkenaz

April 30, 2019 – Martin Elsky (Brooklyn College & CUNY Graduate Center): Erich Auerbach’s “Aufhebung”: Figural Interpretation and the Nazi Era Church

Erich Auerbach’s “figural interpretation,” or the interpretation of Christian scripture as the typological “fulfillment” of Hebrew scripture, first appeared in the 1938 essay “Figura,” written while Auerbach was in Turkish exile after his dismissal in 1935 from the University of Marburg under National Socialist racial laws. It has come to be seen as a defense of Jewish civilization within the European humanist tradition and has drawn attention to Auerbach as an intellectual writing from within the enormity of twentieth-century European cultural collapse. This presentation, however, suggests that the genesis of Auerbach’s writing on biblical typology took place earlier, during a burst of anti-Jewish writing about typology under National Socialism, when Auerbach was still in Germany. Auerbach would have witnessed the public discussion between his own university and the University of Erlangen in which theologians interlaced typology with their justification for dismissing Jewish officials, ironically, shortly before his own dismissal from Marburg. This presentation will challenge commonly held views about Auerbach by exploring figural interpretation in the context of typological exegesis as practiced by theologians under the National Socialist regime. The milieu in which Auerbach formulated typological criticism asks us to consider how we understand him as an intellectual in times of persecution.

Columbia University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  University Seminar participants with disabilities who anticipate needing accommodations or who have questions about physical access may contact the Office of Disability Services (tel. 212-854-2388, disability [at]  Disability accommodations, including sign-language interpreters, are available on request.  Requests for accommodations must be made two weeks in advance.  On campus, Seminar participants with disabilities should alert a Public Safety Officer that they need assistance accessing campus.

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

Dagmar A. Riedel, co-chair
Ehsan Yarshater Center for Iranian Studies
Columbia University
dar211 [at]

Please do not hesitate to contact the co-chairs, if you have any questions.  More information about the seminar’s history is available at  The abstracts of all talks since January 2012 are archived at


Last updated 13 April 2019