Abigail Gillman (WLL) Named IAS Distinguished Scholar

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Abigail Gillman (CAS World Languages & Literatures and AY2021/2022 BUCH Henderson Senior Research Fellow) has been selected as a Distinguished Scholar at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Tel Aviv University. As a recipient of this prestigious fellowship, Gillman will travel to Tel Aviv in November 2021 where she will spend three months conducting research and engaging with the Tel Aviv University community. Fellows are chosen based on the innovation and necessity of their scholarship.

Gillman’s research project, “Parabolic Style Across Jewish Literature,” concerns modern Jewish literature inspired by and emergent from religious parables. Gillman notes that while parables feature in writings as diverse as the Hebrew Bible and contemporary postmodern literature, they demonstrate structural similarities across time periods and religious traditions. At the heart of a parable is a human dilemma or difficult decision. Gillman explains: “The Greek etymology of ‘parable’ means to ‘throw together,’ to put two things side by side. The Hebrew term ‘mashal’ has a double meaning: to tell a riddle or story, and to rule over or dominate. Parables, one might say, are a teaching and a story that are willfully thrown together in order to impose a new way of thinking and living—to convince us to ‘change our direction’ (Kafka).” But rather than tell us what to do, they invite us to think for ourselves. 

Gillman’s work combines theory and literary history with chapters dedicated to specific authors, notably Franz Kafka. Gillman argues th​​at Kafka’s work “provides a template for understanding the modern mashal.” Many contemporary writers harness this ancient genre to transmit modern truths. 

The parable is especially significant today as a form of meaning-making that challenges the rigid religious-secular divides that dominate our society and our culture. Gillman’s “parable project,” involving interviews, translations, and public-facing events, aspires to draw greater attention to this aspect of the form.