Columbia University Seminar on Religion and Writing

The seminar was founded in the fall of 2011 in order to create a research group dedicated to the investigation of literacy and writing in world religions.  Its focus is the comparative study of the roles of literacy vis-à-vis the uses of writing as a form of communication technology in religious traditions.  Approaching the relationship between religion and writing through the lenses of literacy and communication technology, the seminar strives to address all media – from inscriptions on stone and clay tablets to internet websites – and all literary genres – from myths and commentaries to divine revelations and hymns – as well as the theoretical and practical implications of the absence, or rejection, of writing.

Seminar Meetings in 2014-2015

September 9, 2014 – James G. Basker (Barnard College & Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History): Christian Ethics in American Antislavery Writings, 1688–1865

October 21, 2014 – Julie Crawford (Columbia University): Reading Abroad: Women, Religion and Sociability in Early Modern England

November 11, 2014 – Joseph A. Howley (Columbia University): What Was Buried in Numa’s Tomb? Religion and Politics in Roman Book-Burning

December 2, 2014 – Philip Hamburger (Columbia Law School): The KKK and the Separation of Church and State

February 2, 2015 – Avinoam Shalem (Columbia University): Classicizing the New: The Publication of the Tarīkh al-Hind al-gharbī al-musammā bi-ḥadīth-i nuw (Istanbul, Ramaḍān 1142/1730)

February 24, 2015 – David M. Stern (University of Pennsylvania): The Monk’s Haggadah (Munich, BSB Cod. hebr. 200) and the Tale of its Modern Discovery

March 24, 2015 – Michael Twomey (Ithaca College): Peoples of the Book: Middle-Eastern Ethnology in Western Medieval Encyclopedias
- Joint meeting with the Columbia University Seminar on Medieval Studies.

April 28, 2015 – P. Oktor Skjaervo (Harvard University): Writing and Reading the Words of Zarathustra
- This meeting was generously sponsored by the American Institute of Iranian Studies.

Seminar Meetings in 2015-2016

October 13, 2015 – Guy Burak (New York University)
December 15, 2015 – Nerina Rustomji (St. John’s University)
January 26, 2016 – Sarah J. Pearce (New York University)
April 19, 2016 – Yigal Nizri (University of Toronto)

The meetings of the Columbia University Seminar on Religion and Writing (#751) are usually held on Tuesdays in the Faculty House of Columbia University, 64 Morningside Drive, New York, N.Y. 10027 (for directions, click here).  We will gather after 5.00 pm in the lobby or the Ivy Lounge, if it is open.  The seminar will begin at 5.30 pm sharp, and at 7 pm we will adjourn for dinner in the Skyline Dinning Room.

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.

The abstracts of all talks since January 2012 are archived here.  Please do not hesitate to contact us for any further information.  If you wish to attend a seminar meeting, please email Deborah Shulevitz (dgs2016 [ at ]

Mahnaz Moazami & Dagmar Riedel, co-chairs
Columbia University
Center for Iranian Studies
mm1754 [at]
dar2111 [at]

Deborah Shulevitz, rapporteur
Columbia University
Department of History
dgs2016 [ at ]

Previous Rapporteur

Hannah K. Barker, Columbia University, Department of History – Fall 2011 until February 2014

Last updated, 22 May 2015