Harvard scholar wins inaugural $20,000 Erasmus Institute Book Prize


The University of Notre Dame’s Erasmus Institute has selected Stephen Greenblatt, John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, as the inaugural recipient of the $20,000 Erasmus Institute Book Prize for his work “Hamlet in Purgatory.”p. The award will be presented April 2 (Tuesday) at a reception at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The ceremony will include an address by James Billington, the Librarian of Congress. Funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Erasmus Institute Book Prize recognizes the best nonfiction book that applies Abrahamic intellectual traditions to an important problem in the social sciences, humanities or arts.p. “Hamlet in Purgatory,” published by Princeton University Press, originated in Greenblatt’s fascination with the ghost of Hamlet’s father. It examines the rise and fall of Purgatory, showing the cultural force of this Catholic doctrine, while also providing an account of medieval religion, an innovative interpretation of the apparitions that trouble Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, and an exploration of how a “culture can be inhabited by its own spectral leftover.”p. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a member of the Erasmus Institute Book Prize jury and the W.E.B. DuBois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, describes Greenblatt’s book as a “major, original contribution to scholarship.” It provides, he adds, “a most extraordinary demonstration of the curiously subtle manner in which religious beliefs inform and shape artistic structures even when and where we might least expect it.”p. Joining Gates on the jury were Sabine MacCormack, Walgreen Professor for the Study of Human Understanding at the University of Michigan, and Peter Steinfels, the “Beliefs” columnist for The New York Times and the paper’s senior religion correspondent from 1988-97.p. A member of the Harvard faculty since 1997, Greenblatt previously taught for 28 years at the University of California, Berkeley. He is chair of Harvard’s interdisciplinary history and literature concentration and the author of 10 books, including “Renaissance Self-Fashioning,” “Shakespearean Negotiations,” “Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World,” and, with Catherine Gallagher, “Practicing New Historicism.”p. Greenblatt founded the journal Representations and serves as general editor of The Norton Shakespeare and associate general editor of the widely used Norton Anthology of English Literature.p. The Pew Charitable Trusts support nonprofit activities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy, and religion. Based in Philadelphia, the Trusts make strategic investments to help organizations and citizens develop practical solutions to difficult problems. Today, the Pew Trusts are among the nation’s largest private philanthropies, with assets of $4.3 billion and annual grant commitments of about $230 million.p. Established in 1997 and named in honor of the 16th-century Catholic scholar and reformer, the Erasmus Institute seeks to reinvigorate the role of Catholic intellectual tradition in contemporary scholarship. Primarily concerned with Catholic intellectual life, the institute also supports research deriving from the intellectual traditions of other Christian churches, Judaism, and Islam. In addition to the Erasmus Institute Book Prize, the institute sponsors residential fellowships, summer seminars, and conferences in the United States and abroad.

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