Liah Greenfeld

Director, IASSLiah Greenfeld

University Professor and Professor of Sociology,
Political Science, and Anthropology
Boston University

B.A., cum laude, Hebrew University
Ph.D., summa cum laude, Hebrew University

Liah Greenfeld has been widely published on questions of art, economics, history, language and literature, philosophy, politics, religion, and science, and has studied the cultures of England/Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia/Soviet Union, and the USA. Upon the publication of Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity (Harvard University Press, 1992), she has emerged as a preeminent authority on nationalism, a distinction reinforced by the publication of The Spirit of Capitalism: Nationalism and Economic Growth (Harvard University Press, 2001). On the difference between Greenfeld’s work, considered the one major alternative to the dominant paradigms in political, historical, and economic sociology, and other approaches see Charles Tilly, Identities, Boundaries, and Social Ties, Boulder, London: Paradigm Press, 2005, ch.1.

Professor Greenfeld received her doctoral degree from the department of sociology and social anthropology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1982. That very fall she assumed her first teaching position in the United States as a post-doctoral instructor at the College of the University of Chicago. Following that, she held the positions of Assistant as well as John L. Loeb Associate Professor of Social Sciences at Harvard University between 1985 and 1994. In 1994, Greenfeld joined Boston University as a University Professor and Professor of Political Science and Sociology. During various periods she has held visiting positions at R.P.I., M.I.T., and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. She has also been a recipient of Olin, Earhart, and N.R.C. fellowships, a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey, and a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. In 2002, she received the Kagan Prize from The Historical Society for the best book in European History (The Spirit of Capitalism.) And in 2004, she was chosen to deliver the Gellner lecture at the London School of Economics. Greenfeld’s works on nationalism have been translated into 10 languages and have attracted a steady stream of Visiting Scholars, influenced by this work, to Boston University to study under her supervision. (In 2010-2011 alone she has been asked to supervise 6 Visiting Scholars: three from China, one from France, one from Bulgaria, and one from Brazil.) In 2009, the translation of Nationalism into Russian was included in Glavnye Knigi 2009 Goda (Most Important Books of 2009). The translation of The Spirit of Capitalismhas been particularly influential in China and in Asia more generally. In May 2010, Greenfeld was appointed A Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

Since delivering the 2004 Gellner Lecture, titled “Nationalism and the Mind,” Greenfeld’s teaching and research has increasingly concentrated on the mind in the context of culture, which has led her to her current interests in neuroscience, psychiatry, mental disease, and the comparative study of creative imagination. In 2008, she was awarded the Ireland Distinguished Visiting Scholar Prize by the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and delivered the lecture “Madness and Modernity: A Key To The Mind?” on her new theory of mental disease (in particular, schizophrenia and manic-depressive illness) in modern society. Previous recipients of the Ireland prize included Daniel Dennett and Stephen Pinker, as well as eminent cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists. The difference between her approach, which in a 2005 essay she has named historical or sociological mentalismnot to be confused with psychological or philosophical mentalisms – and the approaches such as Dennett’s or Pinker’s is discussed on, a blog established by David Phillippi (BU, English, 2007).

In another life–before she moved with her parents from Russia to Israel in 1972–she tried her hand at being, first, a child-prodigy, playing violin on TV at the age of 7, and then a poet, receiving the Krasnodar Region’s Second Prize for it (and a bust of Pushkin) at 16 and publishing a collection of poems, under a properly Russified alias in Komsomol’skaya Pravda.