The Columbia University Seminar on Religion and Writing

We hold our regular meetings as hybrid events, so that the seminar itself is accessible to ZOOM participants.  For the academic year 2022–2023 the in-person meeting will take place in the Faculty House on Columbia’s Morningside campus (64 Morningside Drive, New York, NY 10027; for directions, please click here; for accommodation of access, please see below).  Columbia University’s COVID protocols apply to the in-person meetings: visitors are required to be vaccinated

For this year we do not have a fixed meeting day.  We will begin at 5 pm sharp with the seminar, followed by a complimentary buffet dinner at 6.30 pm.  The meetings are open, but a RSVP is required.  If you have any concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.


September 29, 2022 – Lucy K. Pick (University of Chicago): Literacy, Orality, and Translation: Samuel ibn Tibbon, Michael Scot, and Moses Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed

Thursday, October 27, 2022 – Ameneh Youssefzadeh (Independent Scholar): Devotional Songs and Narratives in Iranian Khorasan

The corpus of devotional songs and narratives in Khorasan, a region in northeastern Iran, is very rich. It forms a substantial portion of the repertoire of sung poetry of contemporary Khorasani musicians who come from different ethnic and language groups, and from the two main branches of Islam, Shi’a and Sunni. In northern Khorasan, the languages of sung poetry are Khorasani Turkish, Kurmanji Kurdish, Persian, and Turkmen. In the rest of the region, Persian is mainly used. With the exception of the Sunni Turkmen, most northern Khorasanis are Shi’a Muslims. Eastern Khorasan has a large Sunni population, who form the only Persian-speaking Sunni minority in Iran.

Drawing on my ethnographic research, I will focus on two important genres in the sung poetry of Khorasan: monājāt (to whisper or talk confidentially with someone; a sung prayer) and me‘raj (ladder, ascent; especially referring to the Prophet Mohammad’s ascension to heaven). There are many different ways of performing and listening to monājāt and me‘raj in the Islamic world, and they have many social settings and ceremonial uses. I will discuss both genres in the sung poetry of eastern Khorasan and their importance in the zekr (“remembrance” of God) ceremonies of the Mojaddedi branch of the Naqshbandi order. In northern Khorasan, monājāt have a prominent role in narratives called dāstāns (tales) and performed by the bakhshis (bards). I will discuss the importance of writing in the cultivation and preservation of this repertoire, and we will listen to examples.

Tuesday, 15 November 2022 – Isabelle Levy (Columbia University): Jewish Literary Eros: Between Poetry and Prose in the Medieval Mediterranean (book discussion)

Monday, January 30, 2023 – Alison Vacca (Columbia University)

Monday, February 27, 2023 – Br. John Glasenapp, OSB (St. Anselm College)

Tuesday, April 25, 2023 – Kenneth Baxter Wolf (Pomona College)

Columbia University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  University Seminar participants with disabilities who anticipate needing accommodations may contact the Office of Disability Services at 212.854.2388 or [email protected].  Disability accommodations, including sign-language interpreters, are available on request.  Requests for accommodations must be made two weeks in advance. 

The official page of the Columbia University Seminar 751 is available at:  For more information about the seminar’s history, please see:  The abstracts of all talks since January 2012 are archived at:

Susan L. Boynton, co-chair
Columbia University, Department of Music
slb184 [at]

Dagmar A. Riedel, co-chair
Columbia University
dar2111 [at]

Anya B. Wilkening, rapporteur
Columbia University, Department of Music
abw2163 [at]

First published, 1 February 2012
Last updated, 30 September 2022