Another Colloquium at UVA: Iberian Jews, Convesos, and the Question of Modernity, March 2-3 2014

Gunst Colloqium

Iberian Jews, Conversos, and the Question of Modernity

This is the tentative program for third annual Richard J. Gunst Colloquium in Jewish Studies. The Gunst Foundation has generously provided funds for us to bring several scholars to campus each year to focus on a common theme of interest to faculty, students, and the community. This year we have chosen theme “Iberian Jews, Conversos, and the Question of Modernity.

Focus of the conference: The focus of the colloquium is the experience and perception of Iberian Jews and Judeo-conversos in the context of the emergence of modernity. How did the experience of conversion, exile, migration, separation from religious institutions, cultural crossing, and martyrdom affect the attitudes of conversos and Iberian Jews toward religious and secular authority? Is it legitimate to speak of a converso or Ibero-Judaic epistemology, religiosity, secularism, or even crypto-Judaism? How did the perception of conversos affect notions of jurisprudence, nationhood, ethnicity, “race,” and religious authority? Were conversos or Jews of the Iberian diaspora proleptically modern? If so, to what degree?

Date: Sunday, March 2 to Monday March 3, 2014.

Probable location: Newcomb Hall Kaleidoscope Room


Sunday, March 2, 2014 Kaleidoscope Room, Newcomb Hall

10:30-11:00 Coffee

11:00-11:15 Opening Remarks

11:15-12:15 Sara T. Nalle, Independent scholar:

“Reckoning With One’s Life:  Numeracy, Life Course, and Signs of Modernity in Early Modern Castile”

12:15-12:45 Comment and discussion led by Alison Weber

12:45-2:00 Lunch break

2:00-3:00 Miriam Bodian, University of Texas:

“The Portuguese Jews and the Rabbis: The Problem of Religious Authority”

3:00-3:30 Comment and discussion

4:00-5:30  Judith Cohen: “Traditional Sephardic Songs, and Songs of the Portuguese Converso Regions”

Performance and lecture.

7:00 Dinner for speakers and Jewish Studies faculty

Monday, March 3, 2014

Harrison Auditorium

11:00-12:00 David Graizbord, University of Arizona

“Judeoconversos and Modernity: Going Back to the Conceptual Drawing Board.”

12:00-12:30 Comment and discussion

12:30-1:30 Luncheon by invitation

1:30-2:30 Benjamin Gampel, Jewish Theological Seminary:

“Gazing into the Countenance of the Divine: Reflections on Conversion in the Wake of 1391”

2:30-3:00 Discussion led by Professor Bill McDonald

3:30-4:30 Workshops

1) Sara Nalle will lead a paleography workshop.

2) Judith Cohen will discuss her current research on folk music in Portugal

3) Miriam Bodian will lead a close reading (in translation) of material from an Inquisition trial.

4:30 Closing remarks

Please consult our administrative assistant, Kristin Hilgartner, for assistance in arranging your travel. Her e-mail is If you want to speak to me by phone, the best number is 434 979-0810.

Guest Speakers

Dr Judith Cohen is an ethnomusicologist and singer specializing in Sephardic music and music among the Crypto-Jews of rural Portugal. She is the Spain Consultant for the Alan Lomax Recordings, and also works with medieval music, pan-European balladry, Balkan music and Spanish, Portuguese,Yiddish and French-Canadian traditions. She teaches at York University in Toronto. Recently, she was invited to Morocco to give workshops and concerts returning old Moroccan Sephardic songs to a small town whose longtime Jewish presence is now only a memory.
For more information, check our this article.

Sara T. Nalle (Ph.D. Johns Hopkins University, 1983) has published two books, God in La Mancha (1992) and Mad for God (2001) and many articles on aspects of the religious, social, and cultural history of early modern Spain.  She is currently working on a book-length project on ethnic identity and the family in Spain from 1492 to 1700.  She taught history for 27 years at William Paterson University (Wayne, NJ) and now is an independent scholar based in New York City and Spain.

Miriam Bodian is Professor of History and an affiliate of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of two books, “Hebrews of the Portuguese Nation: Conversos and Community in Early Modern Amsterdam,” which received the National Jewish Book Award in history and the Koret Jewish Book Award in history, and “Dying in the Law of Moses: Crypto-Jewish Martyrdom in Iberian Lands.”

David Graizbord is a historian of early modern Jews. His research focuses on the Western Sephardi Diaspora of the seventeenth century. In particular, Graizbord’s writing approaches questions of religious, social, and political identity as these questions shaped the lives of so-called “New Christians” or “conversos” from the Iberian Peninsula who became Jews in exile.  He has also written about Judeophobia and the culture of the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions; marginality and dissidence in Jewish and Ibero-Catholic societies of the seventeenth century; ethnicity and religion among Sephardim from medieval times to the 1700s; and converso trading networks in the Atlantic. More recently he has begun to research Jewish ethnic identity and Zionism among American Jews. He teaches undergraduate courses on Jewish civilization, medieval and early modern Jewish history, modern Jewish history, Jewish mysticism (its history and principal phenomena), the Spanish Inquisition, and, occasionally, the history of Antisemitism.  His repertoire of graduate courses–offered primarily to students in Arizona’s History Department’s Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies–focuses on early modern Jewish history and Ibero-Catholic history.  Graizbord is the author of Souls in Dispute: Converso Identities in Iberia and the Jewish Diaspora, 1580-1700 (U. of Penn Press, 2004). With Claude Stuczynski, he was co-editor of a special issue of the journal Jewish History/Historiya Yehudit, on “Portuguese New Christian Identities, 1516-1700” (2011). Graizbord’s most recent publications include

“Pauline Christianity and Jewish ‘Race’: The Case of João Baptista D’Este,” in Race and Blood in the Iberian World, ed. Max Herring Torres, María Elena Martínez and David Nirenberg (LIT VERLAG, 2012); and “Between Ethnicity, Commerce, Religion, and ‘Race’: The Elusive Definition of an Early Modern ‘Jewish Atlantic,’” inTheorising the Iberian Atlantic, ed. Harald Braun and Lisa Vollendorf (Brill, 2013).

Dr. Miriam Bodian
Dr. David Graizbord

Benjamin Gampel is the Dina and Eli Field Family Chair in Jewish History at The Jewish Theological Seminary. He teaches courses in medieval and early modern Jewish history, with a special focus on the medieval Sephardim, and lectures widely on the entire range of Jewish history.

Dr. Gampel spent close to a year doing research in local archives in Spain for his first book, The Last Jews on Iberian Soil. After much painstaking work, Dr. Gampel was able to re-create some of the long-forgotten history of the Jews of the Iberian peninsula. He also edited the volume Crisis and Creativity in the Sephardic World. Dr. Gampel returned to the Spanish archives for his current project, a book-length treatment of the riots and forced conversions of 1391 on the Iberian peninsula.

An energetic scholar and teacher, Dr. Gampel is dedicated to bringing the history of the Jews to a broad public audience. He has addressed synagogues and lay groups, organizations of all stripes, and scholarly conclaves.

Dr. Gampel received his doctorate from Columbia University.

See Dr. Gampel’s new video podcast learning series, 120 Minutes With JTS. It covers the history, society and culture of medieval Sephardic Jewry. (QuickTime, a free program, is needed to view these podcasts.)


About emspanishhistorynotes

Scott Taylor is an associate professor in the history department at the University of Kentucky.


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