Professor Mark R. Cohen of Princeton University, a 1970 graduate of The Rabbinical School of The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and a 1976 graduate of The Graduate School of JTS, is the first recipient of the Goldziher Prize. The new interfaith award is administered by the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations at Merrimack College, a Catholic institution located in North Andover, Massachusetts. The center named the award after Ignác Goldziher (1850–1921), a Jewish Hungarian Islamicist, who was a great admirer of Islam and the Muslim people, and became the founder of modern Arabic and Islamic studies.
Professor Cohen says, “The mission of the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations comes at a critical time as we witness the clash of civilizations and the conflict between the east and the west. The similarity of Jews and Muslims is woefully forgotten and we need to realize their commonalities, such as their monotheism and the practice of daily prayers, dietary laws, and charity in their daily lives. Being awarded the Goldziher Prize is both an honor and a challenge to write about the past without being tainted by the exigencies of the present.”
“JTS is honored to count Professor Cohen among its graduates, both for the superb and deeply relevant scholarship he has produced throughout his career, and for being the first winner of the Goldziher Prize,” says Professor Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS. “Professor Cohen has contributed greatly toward spanning the gap that exists today between Jews and Muslims by promoting a better understanding of their shared history.”
The Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East at Princeton University, Professor Cohen is a well-known historian of the Jews in Arab lands in the Middle Ages. He is the author of more than 100 articles and reviews, as well as several books, including Jewish Self-Government in Medieval Egypt, which won the National Jewish Book Award for Jewish history in 1981, and Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages, which has been translated into six languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish. Professor Cohen has also taught and lectured at numerous universities, centers, and institutes throughout the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“I view the Goldziher Prize as the crowning symbol of what I’ve been trying to achieve with my scholarship and my teaching for nearly forty years,” says Professor Cohen. “In my classes I’ve had students who are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, and Israeli—a rainbow coalition of students who are interested in this subject. I try to teach about Jews in the Islamic world in a balanced way. My goal is to create better understanding between Jews and Muslims and a better understanding of Islam among Jews. JTS has been central to this. I went there because I did not study in a day school or a yeshiva, so I didn’t have that kind of deep-structure, classical education, and since I wanted to be a medievalist, I needed to be able to read the kinds of things that medieval people wrote. At JTS, I learned how to read text and that has stood me in good stead ever since, so I’m very appreciative of my seminary education and I view the years I spent at JTS as among the most valuable of my entire life.”
The Goldziher Prize is a $25,000 cash award, made possible by a generous grant from the William and Mary Greve Foundation and by the vision of one of the Foundation’s principals, John Kiser. On October 6, 2010, the prize will be formally awarded to Professor Cohen at a dinner at Brandeis University.