JTS Graduate Wins Prestigious John Nicholas Brown Prize

Jonathan Ray’s First Book Is Deemed “Exceptional” and “A Model for Students”

Press Contact: Eve Glasberg
Office: (212) 678-8089
Email: evglasberg@jtsa.edu

August 4, 2010, New York, NY

Jonathan RayJonathan Ray, the Samuel Eig Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies in the theology department at Georgetown University and a 2003 graduate of The Jewish Theological Seminary, has been awarded the John Nicholas Brown Prize by the Medieval Academy of America for his book, The Sephardic Frontier: The Reconquista and the Jewish Community in Medieval Iberia. The book also received an honorable mention for the Best First Book Prize by the Society of Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies.

The John Nicholas Brown Prize is presented annually for the best first book on any topic in Medieval Studies. The prize committee lauded Ray’s “exceptional book” and its interdisciplinary approach, which “brings an entirely new dimension that will encourage future researchers to look beyond accepted models . . . it is a book that many medievalists, whether Iberianists or not, will want to know and share, as a model, with their students.”

Professor Ray received his PhD in Jewish History from The Graduate School of JTS. He is the first and, currently, the only full-time Jewish Studies professor at Georgetown.

“I came to JTS to get an MA in Jewish history, and ended up staying for my PhD,” says Professor Ray. “The main reason for this was the size and diversity of JTS’s faculty, which, for Jewish Studies, is second to none. JTS is one of the few places in the world where you can really focus on Jewish history and culture from the inside, rather than as a subset of European, American, or Middle Eastern history. I didn’t want to be a historian who dabbles in Judaica, but one who approaches Jewish history on its own terms. My time at JTS helped me to work comfortably with Jewish and non-Jewish texts, and encouraged me to treat Jewish history critically, rather than apologetically. These qualities helped me write The Sephardic Frontier, and continue to be a hallmark of my research and teaching.”

The Sephardic Frontier explores the role of Jewish immigrants throughout the Iberian Peninsula during the period when Christian Spain expanded its kingdom into Muslim territories in an aggressive military push known as the reconquista. Cities needed repopulation following these violent conquests, and Ray shows not only how Jews played a vital role as civil servants in building new urban populations, but also the resultant interaction that occurred between Jews and Christians.

Ray always reminds his students that current affairs, the politics of today’s world, are part of history. “There’s really no way of understanding the present day without understanding the past. And the best way to understand it is to try to look at it on its own terms rather than project our concerns and fears and hopes back upon it. Our history is a product of the questions we ask. However, if we can try to be aware of our own cultural baggage, it may help us view the past as it really was rather than as we want to see it.”

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