Margaret Olin

Senior Research Scholar in Religious Studies, in Judaic Studies, and in Divinity

Peg Olin, B.A., Ph.D. University of Chicago, faculty member at Yale since 2009: Your work explains how communities visualize themselves through monument, testimony, and literal boundary maintenance.

When you arrived at Yale in 2009, you were already a distinguished scholar, with so wide a range that your appointment spanned two schools and three departments. Your books themselves demonstrate this: you are the author of Forms of Representation in Alois Riegl’s Theory of Art, The Nation Without Art: Examining Modern Discourses on Jewish Art, and co-editor of Monuments and Memory, Made and Unmade. During your years here you also completed two fine exhibitions mounted at the Whitney Humanities Center that included your moving photographs: Can Rocks Feel Pain: The Bitter Landscapes of Palestine (with David Shulman) and Shaping Community: Poetics and Politics of the Eruv.

Your current research continues your interests and is equally wide. It concerns documentary media, Jewish visual culture, and theories of witnessing and commemoration, centering on the role of photographic practices in the construction of communities and on interpersonal relationships; sites of human interaction and/or identification, including shared spaces, where people mingle with others in imagination and reality; the impact of perceptual theory on visuality; and the visual construction of Jewish identity.

As communities practice their construction, you have been there: recording, through your photographs and ethnographic conversations, information for your books as well as anecdotes for your powerful classroom discussions. Your courses at Yale include focus on the photographic text; on Jewish identity and feminist art; on imagination and perceptual theory; and on visualizing and witnessing. In these you have invited students to think broadly and specifically about architecture, design, aesthetics, feeling, and social life. In an important way, you have made Yale more conscious of the presence of religion, and you have helped students working on subjects far afield of yours find more inspiration for their questions. As one student recorded in a class evaluation: “From this class I was challenged to be free.”