2008 EMET Prize Laureate – Humanities: Middle Eastern studies
Prof. Etan Kohlberg is awarded the EMET Prize for his unique contribution to the study of Islam and in particular its Shii branch. His research has made him one of the foremost scholars in this field, not just in Israel, but in the whole world.
Prof. Etan Kohlberg was born in Tel-Aviv in 1943. After completing his military service he began his studies at the Hebrew University and was awarded the B.A. (1966) and M.A. degrees (1968) summa cum laude. From 1969 through 1971 he was at Oxford University, where he wrote his doctoral thesis under the supervision of Samuel Stern and Richard Walzer (1969-1971). In 1972 he began teaching at the Hebrew University, and was promoted to senior lecturer four years later. In 1983 he was made associate professor and has been a full professor since 1991. For two years he served as Head of the Institute of Asian and African Studies (1987-1989).
His scholarly activity focuses on medieval Islamic religious thought and literature, with particular emphasis on Shia Islam. In numerous articles he has described and analyzed the principles of Shiite faith and law. He has also devoted considerable attention to Shiite literature, especially that part of it which is concerned with hadith (traditions) and with polemics against other Muslims. Another field to which he has made a major contribution is the study of martyrdom (shahada) in Islam. Many of his writings have been translated into Persian, Turkish and Arabic. He is the author of several books, notably an extensive study of the library of the 13th-century Shiite scholar Ali Ibn Tawus, and (in collaboration with Prof. Amir-Moezzi of the Sorbonne) an annotated edition of an early Shiite text dealing with the exegesis of the Koran.
During a sabbatical year in the U.S., he taught at Yale University (1978-1979). He was twice a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University, and twice a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. In 1993 he was elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and for six years represented it at the Standing Committee for the Humanities of the European Science Foundation. He has served on various committees, including the professional committee for the study of Arabic at the Ministry of Education, the academic committee of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University and the academic committee of the Ben-Zvi Institute. He holds the Max Schloessinger Chair in Islamic Studies. For many years he was elected as outstanding teacher at the Faculty of Humanities. His scholarly achievements won him the Rothschild Prize (2008).