Workshop in Jerusalem

Purity and Pollution in Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Societies and Thought from Late Antiquity to the High Middle Ages

A joint workshop of the University of Notre Dame and the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies


March 7–9

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Purity and its antithesis, pollution, were dominant cultural themes in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim societies from Late Antiquity to the Central Middle Ages (circa 4th–13th centuries). They were essential elements in issues of moral conduct, law, theology, liturgy, statecraft, and environment; moreover, they were ways of articulating reality, expressing religious and social aspirations, and of drawing increasingly more subtle conceptual borders between social categories and groups.

The Israel Institute for Advanced Studies research group dedicated to studying “Purity and Pollution” during the 2021–2022 academic year is therefore holding a collaborative workshop with the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Theology and Nanovic Institute for European Studies, in order to bring together the scholars from a variety of disciplines, at both institutions, who are working on this theme.


This workshop is funded by the Crown-Minow Endowment for Jewish Studies and the Kurt and Tessye Simon Endowment for Excellence for Jewish Studies of the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and a grant from Notre Dame's Nanovic Institute for European Studies; and co-hosted by the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies and the University of Notre Dame Jerusalem Global Gateway.

Participants and Papers

Deborah Tor (University of Notre Dame, History; Workshop Convener), “The Search for ‘Pure Religion’ in the 11th and 12th Century Middle East”

Jeremy Brown (University of Notre Dame, Theology), “Breaking the Spirit of Impurity: Defilement and the Structure of Moral Conduct in Medieval Castilian Kabbalah”

Jennifer Davis (Catholic University of America, History), “‘For a Most Pernicious Rumor has Come to Our Ears’: Regulating Purity in Charlemagne’s Empire”

Yaniv Fox (Bar-Ilan University, General History), “I Have Washed my Feet, How Shall I Defile Them? Purity and Pollution in Early Medieval Exegesis and Homiletics”

Nina Glibetić (University of Notre Dame, Theology),  “A Levitical Revival in Byzantium: Clergy, Women, Purity, and Sacred Space in Late Medieval Liturgy”

Mary Keys (University of Notre Dame, Political Science), “‘Blessed Are the Pure of Heart’: A Beatitude in Late Classical and Medieval Christian Thought”

Angela Zielinski Kinney (University of Vienna, Classical Philology), “Exploitative Purification? Patristic Depictions of the Indigent Sick”

Hildegund Müller (University of Notre Dame, Classics),  “Purity and Imperfect Virtue in the Post-Constantinian Era”

Gabriel Radle (University of Notre Dame, Theology), “Sexual Deflowering and Ritual Impurity in Medieval Judaism and Christianity”

Adam Silverstein (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies), “Throwing Our Sins Away: Expiation Rituals between Judaism and Islam”

Daniella Talmon-Heller (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Middle East Studies), “Handling Sacred Scriptures in a Polluted World: Jewish and Islamic Contentions”

Alexis Torrance (University of Notre Dame, Theology), "Ecclesial Purity in Symeon the New Theologian and the anti-Messalian trials of Middle Byzantium”


Photo by Rolf Kranz, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0