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Call for Applications: NEH Summer Seminar on Medieval Jewish Philosophy

NEH Summer Seminar in Medieval Philosophy

There will be a four-week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar on “Will, Commandment, and Human Perfection in Medieval Jewish Philosophy” taking place July 8—August 4, 2018 at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. The Director of the Seminar is Jonathan Jacobs, Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy, John Jay College/CUNY.

The seminar will begin with exploration of portions of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, as important background to several of the issues. We will then spend two weeks studying works by Saadia Gaon and two weeks studying works by Moses Maimonides, examining affinities between them as well as important differences, and also looking at their appropriation of philosophy from other traditions. We will also read a text from Aquinas, which will be a very helpful basis for comparative study, especially regarding moral epistemology and practical reason.

While we will be looking closely at the thought of a small number of important medieval thinkers the seminar will be a study of enduringly important issues concerning the conception of moral agency, the will, conceptions of virtue and piety, conceptions of ethical requirement, and the ways that theistic commitments impact how those matters are understood. Its relevance extends right into the present.

The following are some of the questions that will shape some of our discussions:

  • How do Saadia and Maimonides appropriate and modify inheritances from the Greek philosophical heritage and Islamic influences? (Saadia’s method shows the influence of Islamic thinkers, and Maimonides’ appropriation of Aristotle was mediated by Islamic thinkers.) 
  • How do Saadia and Maimonides’s conceptions of free will differ from Aristotle’s conception of voluntariness, and what are the implications for key issues of moral psychology and moral responsibility?
  • What are the main differences between the Jewish thinkers’ account of repentance and the possibility of revising one’s states of character on the one hand, and Aristotle’s view of the fixity (or near fixity) of established states of character, on the other? 
  • What are the distinctive features of each thinker’s conception of virtue and human excellence?
  • How do Saadia and Maimonides understand the relation between reason’s role in religion and the authenticity and significance of prophecy?
  • How do the views of “the reasons of the commandments” elaborated by Saadia and Maimonides differ from the Aristotelian conception of practical wisdom and from natural law theorizing (especially Aquinas’s)? 
  • What are these thinkers’ most significant contributions to fundamental, enduring issues of moral agency, the understanding of the will, and the rationality of moral judgment? What aspects of their thought remain especially relevant?

Of course, you are encouraged to raise and pursue your own questions and angles of approach. Moreover, the seminar will be responsive to issues and concerns as they arise during the four weeks of conversation and research. The seminar is meant to engage a wide range of interests and expertise, including Ethics, History of Philosophy, Jewish Studies, Philosophical Theology, Theories of Human Nature, Intellectual History, and others. 

Applications are welcome from across the Humanities disciplines and the discussions will be shaped by the ideas and concerns that arise during the seminar. Applicants need not have expertise in Medieval Philosophy or Jewish Philosophy though, of course, expertise is welcome. In the past, teacher/scholars from a broad range of disciplines have found the study of these texts and issues to have considerable relevance and to offer sometimes surprisingly fresh and innovative possibilities. There are many ways that the focus of the seminar has important points of contact with numerous disciplines and a great many scholarly projects.

For additional information about the Seminar contact Professor Jacobs at   Also, see the NEH website for information.

Information is available on a website for the Seminar: 

Please Note:

For summer 2018 at least three Seminar spaces are reserved for non-tenure-track/adjunct faculty members. An applicant need not have an advanced degree in order to qualify. Adjunct and part-time lecturers are eligible to apply. 

Individuals may not apply to an NEH Summer Seminar whose director is affiliated with the same institution or is a family member. 

Individuals must not apply to seminars directed by scholars with whom they have studied. 

To be considered eligible, applicants must submit a complete application. This includes an NEH cover sheet and the additional materials requested on the individual seminar website.

Application deadline: March 1, 2018/Notification date: March 31, 2018.

The Director

Jonathan Jacobs is Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and also a member of the Doctoral Faculty of Philosophy and the Doctoral Faculty of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author of nine books, editor of three, and has published nearly one hundred articles on topics in Ethics, Medieval Philosophy, Jewish Philosophy, Criminal Justice, Political Philosophy, and other areas. He has been a Visiting Scholar or Visiting Professor at Clare Hall, Cambridge, the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies, The University of St. Andrews, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Linacre College, Oxford, the University of Edinburgh, and other institutions. He is a Fulbright Scholar in the UK in fall 2017.

Among his works most relevant to the seminar are Law, Reason, and Morality in Medieval Jewish Philosophy, (Oxford University Press, 2010), Judaic Sources and Western Thought: Jerusalem’s Enduring Presence, (editor, Oxford University Press, 2011), and Reason, Religion, and Natural Law: Plato to Spinoza (editor, Oxford University Press, 2012).