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2 faculty selected for Simpson Center Society of Scholars

May 30, 2013

Devin Naar reads a Sephardic Jewish text written in the Judeo-Spanish language known as Ladino.

Two Jackson School faculty, Devin Naar and Scott Radnitz, have been selected to participate in the Simpson Center Society of Scholars during the 2013-14 academic year. The group of UW scholars meets throughout the year to discuss research in progress.

Devin Naar, who teaches in the Samuel & Althea Stroum Jewish Studies Program, came to the UW about two years ago. He is looking forward to the time the award affords him for his research and writing. He is working on a book based on his dissertation, Jewish Salonika and the Making of the “Jerusalem of the Balkans” 1890-1943, which received a best dissertation award from the Stanford University Department of History.

Naar’s research focuses on Sephardic Jews, who emigrated from Spain around 1492 and settled in the Grecian town of Salonika where they spoke Spanish, but wrote in Hebrew letters. The language has become known as Ladino.

Naar learned Hebrew growing up, but despite the fact his family is descended from Sephardic Jews, he learned Spanish separately. Naar said that Seattle has a significant Sephardic population and he regularly shares his research with the community through public presentations. He is also working to digitize old texts, which members of the community have been eager to share with him. “I’m dealing with archival documents, but a living community,” he said.

Scott Radnitz, who teaches classes in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, said conspiracy theories are pervasive in post-Soviet countries.
He is researching how political elites in these countries use conspiracy theories as a way to advance political interest and how these are contested.

“There is something attractive about conspiracy theories, but here we don’t see political elites promoting them,” Radnitz said, referring to the difference between the U.S. and countries such as Russia, where President Vladimir Putin’s re-election in 2012 was widely perceived to be rigged. Protests ensued and Putin in turn accused protesters of doing the bidding of the United States. Putin accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of sending a signal to protesters.

As part of the Society of Scholars, Radnitz is looking forward to discussing his research with colleagues from a variety of disciplines. “It’s interesting to have a cohort of people looking at things in a different way than a political scientist usually does,” he said.