Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Jonathan Ray wins John Nicholas Brown Prize for The Sephardic Frontier

Professor Jonathan Ray of Georgetown University has been named one of the co-winners of John Nicholas Brown Prize, given out for the best first book in medieval studies. He won the award for his work, The Sephardic Frontier: The "Reconquista" and the Jewish Community in Medieval Iberia, which was published in 2006.

Professor Ray received the award at the Medieval Academy of America's Annual Meeting, which was held last month. The other co-winner was Bissera V. Pentcheva for her book, Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium.

Professor Ray tells, "I’m very pleased and extremely honored to be the co-recipient of the John Nicholas Brown Prize from the Medieval Academy. It is always gratifying to have your work receive praise, but it was particularly meaningful for me to see my work on Medieval Jews transcend the boundaries of Jewish Studies and be recognized by colleagues in Medieval Studies. One of my goals for The Sephardic Frontier was to bridge some of the disciplinary boundaries that still separate scholars of medieval Jewish and medieval Iberian history."

The prize committee noted in their decision that "Ray's exceptional book will significantly mark a wide range of fields within medieval studies, as well as some beyond its confines: Iberian studies, including both the history of the "three cultures" and that of monarchic practices; Sephardic studies, to which it brings an entirely new dimension that will encourage future researchers to look beyond accepted models; the emerging field of frontier or borderland studies; and the study of cross-cultural contact in many places outside the Iberian Peninsula. It is a book that many medievalists, whether Iberianists or not, will want to know and share, as a model, with their students."

The book has received many positive reviews since it was published. For example, Abraham D. Lavender writes in The Journal for the Study of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry that Ray "challenges the traditional view concerning the characteristics of the Jewish community as a permanent and inevitable feature of medieval Iberian Jewish life."

Ray specializes in medieval and early modern Jewish history. He says, "I have always been interested in the complex and layered nature of religion and culture, and have been drawn to those regions of the world, such as medieval Iberia, in which different religious communities developed in dynamic symbiosis with one another."

He adds that his current project, "traces the Jews who were expelled from Spain 1492 as they re-established communities throughout the Mediterranean world of the sixteenth century. Rather than view the formation of Sephardic Diaspora as something of a continuation medieval Spanish Jewry in exile, this work aims to demonstrate that it was only after their expulsion from Spain that the so-called “Sephardim” truly acquired a unified identity “Spanish and Portuguese” identity."

Sources: Medieval Academy of America