Maya Soifer Irish
Assistant Professor of History
Faculty Affiliate, Medieval Studies Program and Jewish Studies
Email: Maya.S.Irish@rice.edu Phone: X 2598 Office: 311 Humanities
- Ph.D. Princeton University, 2007
- M.A. University of Colorado, 2000
Areas of Interest
- Medieval Europe
- Medieval Iberia
- Kingdom of Castile in the High to Late Middle Ages
- Jewish-Christian Relations
Research and Teaching
Dr.Irish works on the history of interfaith relations in medieval Spain and theMediterranean. Her book manuscript,tentatively entitled Jews, Christians,and Royal Power in Medieval Castile, is the first half of a two-bookproject that will examine the evolution of Jewish-Christian relations in thekingdom of Castile during the High Middle Ages (eleventh to fifteenth century). Medieval Spain is famous for its convivencia (“living-togetherness”) of Jews,Christians, and Muslims, and for the way this coexistence was torn asunder firstby the anti-Jewish violence of 1391, and then by the expulsion of the Jews in1492. However, it remains unclear how coexistencemorphed into violence. Did it happenbecause the Church intensified its anti-Jewish rhetoric? Or had violence always been an integral partof convivencia, until it somehowspiraled out of control? Dr. Irish’sresearch suggests new ways to approach these questions. She argues that the Jewswere always vulnerable in the kingdom of Castile, because their position owedits existence not to a special brand of toleration with origins in the Muslimworld and the tolerant atmosphere of the southern Iberian frontier with Islam,but to the same economic and socio-political forces that were at work north ofthe Pyrenees. The Jews’ status as the property of the royal treasury came withspecial privileges, and provided some protection from popular violence.However, it also exposed the Jews to the arbitrariness of the Castilian Crown’s policies,contributed to their isolation from Christian society, and fueled anti-Jewishsentiments in towns. Eventually, byissuing secular legislation on the Jews, the Crown began to chip away at theJews’ special status, thus opening the doors for the legislative attacks on theJews by Castile’s representative assembly, the cortes.
Dr.Irish’s next project will build on the themes of the first book and examine theexplosion of Christian hostility toward the Jews in late fourteenth-centurySpain. The pogroms of 1391 were incitedby a Castilian preacher, Ferrant Martínez,and spread toother regions of Spain. They were by farthe worst episode of anti-Jewish violence in medieval Europe, leading thousandsof Jews to escape death by converting to Christianity. Dr. Irish plans to seek an explanation forthe 1391 riots in the political and social configurations peculiar to latefourteenth-century Castile, as well as in the broader European patterns ofanti-Jewish violence.
Dr. Irish teaches undergraduate surveys of medievalEuropean and Mediterranean history, and courses on medieval Spain andJewish-Christian-Muslim relations. A freshman seminar on medieval violence, anda course on pre-modern borderlands are also in the works. Dr. Irish currently does not direct dissertation research, but is open to the possibility of teaching graduate seminars in Medieval and Early Modern Spanish and Mediterranean history.
“Beyond Convivencia: CriticalReflections on the Historiography of Interfaith Relations in Christian Spain.” Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies, January 2009.
““You say that the Messiah has come...’: the Ceuta Disputation(1179) and Its Place in Christian Anti-Jewish Polemics of the High MiddleAges.” The Journal of Medieval History, September 2005.