D Gershon Lewental, PhD—Professional biography

D Gershon Lewental
D Gershon Lewental is a cultural historian of the Middle East, focusing on how societies use religion, memory, and conflict to define and maintain their identities. He is an assistant professor of Islamic history in the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Shalem College in Jerusalem, Israel, and has served as a visiting assistant professor of Middle Eastern history in the Departments of History and International & Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma since 2012. He earned his bachelor of arts degree (magna cum laude) from Cornell University and his doctorate in Middle Eastern history from Brandeis University. His dissertation, on the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah during the Arab-Islamic conquest of Iran and the changing perceptions of the engagement through time, received the Foundation of Iranian Studies Best Dissertation Award and the Brandeis University Glatzer Dissertation Prize. His fields of specialisation include early Islamic history and historiography, Iranian history, the Bahaʾi faith, and Israeli society.

He is preparing two book manuscripts, one on the interplay of religion, nationalism, and memory in the modern Middle East and the other on the rôle of narrative in early Islamic historiography. He has published articles on the literary development of Islamic Iranian identity in Iranian Studies (2017), the use and abuse of religious history by Ṣaddām Ḥusayn in Middle Eastern Studies (2014) and other articles, including a study of radical Islamists’ memory are forthcoming in other journals. He is also the English translator of numerous Hebrew academic works, including Yaron Harel’s Zionism in Damascus (I B Tauris, 2015) . Other topics on which he is currently working include a broad study of the Bahaʾi community in Israel from 1917 to the present; and an analysis of the elaboration of Tajiki identity. At the University of Oklahoma, he teaches numerous courses, including Religion and society in the Middle East, Early Islamic empires, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Religion and minorities in Israel, Political Islam, Jews and Christians under Islam, Rebirth of Israel (History of Zionism), and Israeli society.

Table of contents

Research interests

I am a cultural historian of the Middle East, focusing on how societies use religion, memory, and conflict to define and maintain their identities. In my publications and in my classes, I explore this theme in various chronological and geographical contexts, and the scarlet thread running through my research is an attention to shared heritages and historical continuities, which I find in what appear to be contradictory narratives or unconnected cultures through a comparative and transnational approach.

Teaching experience

  • University of Oklahoma, Department of History Norman, Oklahoma
    Schusterman visiting professor of Israel studies August 2012–present
  • Courses:
    Fall 2012: Rebirth of Israel (HIST 3963); Arab-Israeli conflict (IAS 3473).
    Spring 2013: Religion and society in the Middle East (HIST 3950); Early Islamic empires (IAS 3003).
    Fall 2013: Israeli society (HIST 3950); Arab-Israeli conflict (IAS 3473); History of Zionism and Israel (OLLI adult education).
    Spring 2014: Religion and society in the Middle East (HIST 3950); Early Islamic empires (IAS 3003); Understanding the modern Middle East (OLLI adult education).
    Fall 2014: Religion and minorities in Israel (HIST 3950); Arab-Israeli conflict (IAS 3473); History of Zionism and Israel (OLLI adult education).
    Spring 2015: Religion and society in the Middle East (HIST 3950); Political Islam (IAS 3443); Islam: Faith and civilisation (OLLI adult education).
    Fall 2015: Arab-Israeli conflict (IAS 3473); Arab-Israeli conflict (OLLI adult education).
    Spring 2016: Religion and society in the Middle East (IAS 3003); Jews and Christians under Islam (HIST 3950); Israeli culture through film (HIST 3313); Radical Islam (OLLI adult education).
  • Brandeis University, Lown School of Near Eastern & Judaic Studies Waltham, Massachusetts
    Teaching fellow August 2003–May 2006
  • Courses: Making of the modern Middle East (NEJS 185b); History of Israel (NEJS 145a); Introduction to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (NEJS 3a); Religion and society in the modern Middle East (USEM 31b).
  • Prozdor—Hebrew College Newton, Massachusetts
    Faculty teacher August 2004–June 2006
  • Courses: Israel core (ISRST 101); Introduction to Islam: Faith, culture, civilisation (PHIL 125); Seminar on Islamic history and culture (HIST 135); Israeli society: A Patchwork of identities (ISRST 114); Israeli geography (ISRST 123); Israeli society through film (ISRST 126).
  • Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Comm Ctr, Explorations: Adult Learning and Enrichment Newton, Mass.
    Instructor January 2006–June 2008
  • Courses: Islamic history and culture; The Modern Middle East.
  • Temple Beth-El Felix Aber Religious School Ithaca, New York
    Teacher (fourth grade) and private tutor July 2000–May 2001
  • Education

  • Brandeis University, Lown School of Near Eastern & Judaic Studies Waltham, Massachusetts
    PhD, MA, modern Middle Eastern history; 4.0 GPA August 2003–August 2011
  • Dissertation title: ‘Qādisiyyah, then and now: A Case study of history and memory, religion, and nationalism in Middle Eastern discourse’; committee: Avigdor Levy (chair), Kanan Makiya, David S Powers (Cornell University).
    Synopsis: I examined the perceptions of the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, an engagement during the Arab-Muslim conquest of Iran in the 630s, as they changed already in the first centuries of Islam down to the contemporary Middle East. My thesis included a lengthy study of early Islamic historiography, a deconstruction of the traditional Qādisiyyah narrative, and an investigation of the modern manipulation of its memory with a particular focus on the discourse of Baʿthī Iraq under Ṣaddām Ḥusayn, as well as radical Islamists. My analysis explored the dynamic of religion and nationalism in modern identity, as well as the rôle of memory—such as that of al-Qādisiyyah—in connecting the two. In recognition of this dissertation, I was honoured with the Foundation of Iranian Studies Best Dissertation Award (2012) and the Brandeis University Glatzer Dissertation Prize (2012).
  • Academy of Sciences of the Rep. of Tajikistan, Inst. of Languages and Literature Dushanbe, Taj.
    US Dept of State Critical Language Scholarship—Intensive Persian Summer Institute June–July 2009
  • University of Wisconsin, Department of Arabic & Persian Languages Madison, Wisconsin
    Persian immersion programme June–August 2005
  • Cornell University, College of Arts & Sciences: Depts of Near Eastern Stds and Economics Ithaca, NY
    AB magna cum laude; with distinction and a concentration in Int’l Relat.; Dean’s List Aug. 1999–May 2003
  • Editing and translating experience

  • Journal of Persianate Societies Leiden, The Netherlands
    Associate editor January 2016–present
  • E J Brill Academic Press Leiden, The Netherlands
    Translation editor and content editor March 2007–present
  • Freelance translator Tel-Aviv, Israel
    Translator from Hebrew into English October 2010–present
  • Current projects

  • Seventh-Century redux: Religion, nationalism, and memory in conflict in the Middle East (a book manuscript examining the function of religious rhetoric and member in political discourse in the modern Middle East; near completion).
  • The Death of Rostam b. Farrokh-Hormozd: Literary representations of Iranian identity in early Islam (forthcoming).
  • ‘First’, ‘second’, and ‘third’ battles of al-Qādisiyyah in Iraq, Palestine, and Syria: Early Islamic history and memory in radical Islamist discourse (forthcoming).
  • Creating and constructing heroes and anti-heroes in early Islamic historiography (under review).
  • From settlement to symbol: al-Qādisiyyah and the dehistoricisation of memory in mediæval geographies, narratives, sermons, and poetry (under review).
  • Symbols of (Iranian) empire: Banners, thrones, carpets, and pearls in Arab-Islamic conquest narratives.
  • Epic encounters at al-Qādisiyyah: Narrative and identity in early Islamic historical texts (a book manuscript highlighting the literary nature of the historical texts of early Islamic civilisation).
  • The People have multiplied, the narrative has multiplied: An Matn-cum-isnād analysis of the Bajīlah’s ‘fourth’.
  • Bahāʾī studies and Israel studies: Scholarship and synthesis.
  • The Development of the Bahāʾī faith in Israel and its relations with British and Israeli authorities, 1917–present.
  • Teaching interests and syllabi

    For a full and detailed list of my course syllabi, click here. Below, click for syllabus, if available:

    Introductory/survey courses

    Introduction to the modern Middle East — History of Iran — History of Israel — History of the Ottoman Empire — Introduction to Islam — Introduction to Islamic civilisationHistory of the world to 1500

    Higher-level courses

    Religion and society in the Middle EastNineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Iran — Early Islamic history, 600–1258 — Arab-Israeli conflictPolitical IslamHistory and development of Israeli society — Minorities of the Middle East — Shīʿī Islam — History of Zionism — Jews and Christians under Islam — Jews of the Ottoman Empire — Israeli culture through film — Ottomans and Ṣafavids — Israeli politics

    Seminar/graduate courses

    Seminar on the Arab-Muslim conquests — Nationalism and identity in the Middle East — History and memory in the Middle East — Constitutional revolutions and movements — Identities and tensions in Israeli society — Millenarianism and Islam

    Awards, fellowships, and grants

  • Best PhD Dissertation on a Topic of Iranian Studies, Foundation of Iranian Studies November 2012
  • Nahum & Anne Glatzer Endowed Dissertation Prize, Brandeis University May 2012
  • Graduate School Outstanding Teaching Prize, Brandeis University 2004–2005
  • Redstone Dissertation Year Fellowship, Brandeis University February 2010
  • US Department of State Critical Language Scholarship for Intensive Persian Study March 2009
  • Mellon Dissertation Research Grant March 2009
  • Assn for the Study of the Middle East and Africa conference travel grant, recipient April 2015
  • Assn for the Study of the Middle East and Africa conference travel grant, recipient May 2014
  • Assn for the Study of the Middle East and Africa conference travel grant, recipient March 2013
  • Department of Near Eastern & Judaic Studies, Brandeis University, GTR grant recipient
      Apr 2005; Aug 2007; Aug 2008; Oct 2009
  • Provost’s Dissertation Expense Award, Brandeis University April 2008
  • Sachar Travel Scholarship, Brandeis University March 2008
  • Gorgias Press Book Grant, runner-up January 2006
  • College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s List, Cornell University Fall 2002; Spring 2003
  • Languages and special skills

    Languages

  • Bilingual: Hebrew, English. Fluent: Persian, Tajiki. Proficient: (Levantine) Arabic, Russian, French. Qualified: Latin. Elementary: Turkish. Able to read Greek and Urdu scripts.
  • Computing

  • Computing skills: Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, HTML, and CSS.
  • Professional membership

    Papers presented at scholarly meetings

  • Armenians, Georgians, and Albanians and the initial Sāsānian response to the Arab-Islamic expansion’, 8th biennial congress of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, 17 March 2018, Tbilisi, Georgia.
  • ‘Call-and-response battles in Syria and Iraq: The Literary construction of Islamic collective memory’ (and panel organiser, ‘Echoes of battle: Legitimation, memory, and the distant past in Islamic narratives’, 51st annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, 21 November 2017, Washington, DC.
  • ‘Iranian exiles in Istanbul and Ottoman–Qājār relations’, 10th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 19–21 October 2017, Washington, DC.
  • ‘Iranians, Ottomans, and Europeans in the Nineteenth-Century entrepôt of Istanbul’, 9th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 28 October 2016, Washington, DC.
  • ‘Under the banner of Iran: The Derafsh-e kāveyān as a changing emblem of Iranian identity from the Sāsānian era to the present’, 11th biennial conference of the International Society of Iranian Studies, 04 August 2016, Vienna, Austria.
  • ‘Beyond “Israel studies”: The Case of Bahāʾīs and Jews in the Holy Land, 1917–1957’, 32nd annual meeting of the Association for Israel Studies, 21 June 2016, Jerusalem, Israel..
  • ‘From Israelites to Muslims: Biblical paradigms in the Futūḥ literature’ (and panel organiser, ‘Imagining the ummah: Texts, culture, and the creation of community in early Islam’, 49th annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, 22 November 2015, Denver, Colorado.
  • ‘The Derafsh-e kāveyān: The Pre-Islamic Iranian national standard in myth, history, and memory’, 8th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 30 October 2015, Washington, DC.
  • Symbols of (Iranian) empire: Banners, thrones, carpets, and pearls in Arab-Islamic conquest narratives’, 7th biennial congress of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, 09 September 2015, İstanbul, Turkey.
  • ‘The (Gem) star-spangled banner yet waves’: Iranian priceless treasures in early Islamic history and memory’, 225th meeting of the American Oriental Society, 14 March 2015, New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • ‘Bahāʾīs and Jews in the Holy Land, 1917–1957: Symbiosis and scholarship’, 46th annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies, 14 December 2014, Baltimore, Maryland.
  • ‘Hero and Trickster in early Islamic historiography: The Case of the Qādisiyyah narratives’ (invited panelist), 48th annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, 23 November 2014, Washington, DC.
  • ‘From Settlement to Symbol: al-Qadisiyyah and the dehistoricisation of memory in mediæval narratives, sermons, and poetry’ and panel organiser (‘Narratives and perceptions of the mediæval world’), 7th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 01 November 2014, Washington, DC.
  • ‘Myth and memory in Islamic narratives: Saʿd and Abū Miḥjan at the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah’ and panel organiser (‘Narratives and memory of early Islamic society’), 7th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 31 October 2014, Washington, DC.
  • ‘Rostam’s death at al-Qādisiyyah: Early representations of Iranian identity in Islamic narratives’, 10th biennial conference of the International Society of Iranian Studies, 08 August 2014, Montréal, Québec.
  • ‘Rustam’s death at al-Qādisiyya and the development of an Islamic Iranian identity’, 224th meeting of the American Oriental Society, 15 March 2014, Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Iranian and Islamic heritage and the formation of Tajiki national identity’ (invited participant), After the Persianate: Cultural heritage and national transformation in modern Iran and India, a conference of the Iranian Studies Program, College of International Studies, University of Oklahoma, 08 March 2014, Norman, Oklahoma.
  • ‘“First”, “second”, and “third” battles of al-Qādisiyyah in Iraq, Palestine, and Syria: Early Islamic history and memory in radical Islamist discourse’, 6th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 22 November 2013, Washington, DC.
  • The Death of Rostam: Literary representations of Iranian identity in early Islam’, 6th biennial congress of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, 03 September 2013, Sarajevo, Bosnia.
  • ‘History for a purpose: An Analysis of “Ṣaddām’s Qādisiyyah”’, 5th annual conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, 12 October 2012, Washington, DC.
  • Public lectures

  • Tajikistan between Iran and Islam: Nationalism and identity in post-Soviet Central Asia’, Farzaneh Family Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 15 November 2017.
  • Minorities and the Jewish state: The Druze, Circassian, and Bahāʾī communities of Israel’, International Studies Lecture, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, 07 November 2017.
  • What is radical Islam and why is it so “radical”?’, Institute for International and Immigration Law, Texas Southern University, Houston, Texas, 07 November 2017.
  • ‘Micro-minorities’ in Israel: Druze, Circassian, and Baháʾí communities and the Jewish State’, International Studies Institute, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 06 November 2017.
  • Jewish and Christian minorities in the mediæval Islamic world’, Medieval Fair Lecture Series, Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman Public Library West, Norman, Oklahoma, 03 November 2017.
  • ‘What is the Middle East?’, Moore Baháʾí Cultural Event, Moore, Oklahoma, 01 April 2017.
  • The Holocaust and our world today’ (panel participant), Holocaust Remembrance and Restitution Society’s Holocaust Remembrance Week, Norman, Oklahoma, 04 May 2016.
  • Jews, Christians, and Ottoman society: Minorities under Islam’, Second Wind Ministries and Episcopal Student Association, Norman, Oklahoma, 03 May 2016.
  • Israel: Ask me anything’, Hillel at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 14 April 2016.
  • What makes radical Islam so radical? Understanding radical Islam and Salafism in the Middle East’, Cleveland County Democrats Corn Bread and Beans lecture series, Norman, Oklahoma, 01 April 2016. [Norman Transcript article] [Red Dirt Report article]
  • Vernacular Islam’, Interdisciplinary Islamic Studies Seminar workshop, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 18 March 2016.
  • Epic encounters? Narrative, archetypes, and myth in Islamic historiography’, Interdisciplinary Islamic Studies Seminar and Islamic Studies Program lecture series, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 17 March 2016.
  • Reflections on the future: How societies use religion, memory, and conflict to define and maintain their identities’, Tulsa Jewish United Fund Campaign kickoff lecture and reception, Jewish Federation of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 06 March 2016.
  • Israel: Ask me anything’, Hillel at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 29 February 2016.
  • Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2015—A Retrospective’, Center for Middle East Studies brown-bag lecture series, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 08 February 2016.
  • ‘Recent trends and tensions in Israeli politics and society’, Jewish University adult education series, Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 09 November 2015.
  • Israel 101’, Hillel at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 20 October 2015.
  • ‘The Rise of Islam and the Arab-Islamic conquests in their historical perspective’, Episcopal Student Association, St Anselm of Canterbury Episcopal Student Center, Norman, Oklahoma, 07 October 2015.
  • Finding truth in the Futūḥ: Challenges in studying the Arab-Islamic conquests’, Department of Near Eastern Studies colloquium series, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 04 May 2015.
  • From Protective Edge to pre-emptive elections: Israeli news and analysis’, Jewish University adult education series, Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 23 March 2015.
  • ‘Radical Islam and the Arab-Israeli conflict’, ‘Arab-Israeli conflict’ guest lecture, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, 16 March 2015.
  • Israeli elections primer: Understanding and interpreting the 17 March 2015 elections’, Department of International & Area Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 10 March 2015.
  • ‘Israeli culture and cuisine’, Faculty-in-Residence country culture night, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 08 March 2015.
  • Narratives of Islamic historiography: Reading historical texts as literature’, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies brown-bag lecture series, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 11 February 2015.
  • The Iran-Iraq war of words: Enlisting nationalism and religion in combat’, Center for the Study of Nationalism lecture series, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 18 April 2014.
  • Israel and the US’, Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions series, Norman Public Library, Norman, Oklahoma, 03 April 2014.
  • The Tumultuous Seventh-Century: The Arab-Islamic conquests and the reshaping of the world’, Medieval Fair Lecture Series, Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman Public Library, Norman, Oklahoma, 28 February 2014.
  • Creating and constructing heroes and anti-heroes in early Islamic historiography’, 1st meeting of the Iranian Studies Research Group, Institute for the Study of Asia and Africa and the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, 05 January 2014.
  • The Iran-Iraq War of words, memory, and religious history’, Iran Forum, Alliance Center for Iranian Studies, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel, 26 December 2013.
  • The Baháʾí faith and the State of Israel’, Edmond Baháʾí Center, Edmond, Oklahoma, 17 November 2013.
  • Jews, Judaism, Israel, and the Middle East’, Norman Baháʾí Center, Norman, Oklahoma, 18 October 2013.
  • ‘Between Egypt, Syria, and the Palestinian Territories: Israel in today’s Middle East’, Norman Jewish Community Organization, Norman, Oklahoma, 06 October 2013.
  • ‘History of the Baháʾí community in the Holy Land, 1917 to the present’, Moore Baháʾí Cultural Event, Moore, Oklahoma, 01 February 2013.
  • An Israeli elections primer: Understanding and interpreting the 22 January 2013 elections’, Department of International & Area Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 18 January 2013.
  • The Rise of Jewish national identity in the modern world’, Israel Cornell Club, Ḥaderah, Israel, 07 January 2013.
  • ‘The Baháʾí faith in the Holy Land and Baháʾí-Israeli relations’, Norman Baháʾí Center, Norman, Oklahoma, 08 December 2012.
  • ‘The Art of Zionism: Jewish national identity in the modern world’, Jewish University adult education series, Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 12 November 2012.
  • The Bahāʾī faith in Israel and its community’s relations with the Jewish state’, JuSt Lunch Brown-Bag Lecture Series, Schusterman Program in Judaic & Israel Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, 03 October 2012.
  • Publications

    For a full list of my publications, click here.

    Upcoming talks and lectures

    Please note that not all of these events are open to the general audience; please check with the organisers to confirm.
  • 03 November 2017, 18.15—‘Jewish and Christian minorities in the mediæval Islamic world’ (Medieval Fair Lecture Series, Center for Medieval & Renaissance Studies, University of Oklahoma): Norman Public Library West, 300 Norman Center Court, Norman, Oklahoma.
  • 06 November 2017, 10.00—‘“Micro-minorities” in Israel: Druze, Circassian, and Baháʾí communities and the Jewish State’ (International Studies Institute, University of New Mexico): Lobo A & B, Room 3037/3039, Student Union Building, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
  • 07 November 2017, 12.00—‘What is radical Islam and why is it so “radical”?’ (Institute for International and Immigration Law, Texas Southern University): 3100 Clerbourne St, Room 105/106, Houston, Texas.
  • 07 November 2017, 17.30—‘Minorities and the Jewish state: The Druze, Circassian, and Bahāʾī communities of Israel’ (International Studies Lecture, Texas A&M University): Harrington Education Center 108, 540 Ross St, College Station, Texas.
  • 15 November 2017, 15.00—‘Tajikistan between Iran and Islam: Nationalism and identity in post-Soviet Central Asia’ (Farzaneh Family Center for Iranian and Persian Gulf Studies, University of Oklahoma): Farzaneh Hall 145, Norman, Oklahoma.
  • 21 November 2017, 10.30—‘Call-and-response battles in Syria and Iraq: The Literary construction of Islamic collective memory’ (51st annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association): Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, DC.
  • 17 March 2018—‘Armenians, Georgians, and Albanians and the initial Sāsānian response to the Arab-Islamic expansion’ (8th biennial congress of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies): Ilia State University, Tbilisi, Georgia.
  • Past events ► click to expand