David Nirenberg is the Director and Leon Levy Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. A historian and author, Nirenberg is recognized for wide-ranging scholarship on the interaction of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. His research provides timely insight into questions of racism, Anti-Semitism, and Christian-Muslim relations.
"I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in upstate New York, sparking my lifelong attraction to conversations across languages and cultures. As a Visitor at the Institute in 1996, I remember feeling as if I had suddenly found home. My experience was typical: the Institute’s polyglot conversations change every scholar who enters them, creating new connections and enabling discovery."
At the University of Chicago, Nirenberg served as Dean of the Division of the Social Sciences; Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor of Social Thought, History, Divinity, Romance Languages and Literatures, and the College; Executive Vice Provost; and Interim Dean of the Divinity School.
As founding director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, he championed a program that afforded both funding and space to catalyze collaborations across every division, school, and affiliated laboratory at the university.
While dean of the Division of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, Nirenberg led efforts to create the Computational Social Science program and to establish the Center for International Social Science Research and the Committee on Quantitative Social Science. These endeavors shared the goal of accelerating the diffusion of new methodologies across disciplinary boundaries and expanding possibilities for discovery.
Nirenberg’s written work spans disciplines, cultures, and historical periods. In his first book, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, 1996), Nirenberg explores the concept of religious violence in the Middle Ages. With a more macro focus in Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (W.W. Norton, 2013), Nirenberg considers how foundational anti-Judaism is to the history of the West. In Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, Medieval and Modern (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Nirenberg draws a direct link between the history of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle Ages and their relations in the present. He is co-author with his father (Ricardo Nirenberg) of Uncountable: A Philosophical History of Number and Humanity from Antiquity to the Present (University of Chicago Press, 2021), which seeks to understand the powers and limits of the sciences and the humanities.
In addition to winning excellence-in-teaching awards at Johns Hopkins and Rice University, Nirenberg has received various prizes and honors, including the Historikerpreis from the city of Münster and the Laing Prize from University of Chicago Press in 2017, an honorary doctorate from the University of Haifa (2016), the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize from Phi Beta Kappa (2014), the John Nicholas Brown Prize from the Medieval Academy of America (2000), and the Herbert Baxter Adams Prize (1999) and Premio del Rey Prize (1997) from the American Historical Association.
He received visiting fellowships from numerous institutions, including the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin; the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto, CA; the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales; the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas; and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ.
Nirenberg is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, History and Philosophy/Religion sections (2016) and the Medieval Academy of America (2015).
Nirenberg was born to immigrant parents from Argentina who eventually settled in Albany, NY. He graduated with an A.B. (1986) from Yale University and earned his M.A. (1989) and Ph.D. (1992) from Princeton University’s Department of History. Nirenberg was a visiting scholar in the IAS School of Historical Studies (1996–97).