MISSOULA – Nathaniel Levtow has had an exciting semester. The University of Montana religious studies professor is the recipient of a Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship.
Established in 1994, the Berlin Prize is awarded each year to scholars, writers, policymakers and artists who represent the highest standard of excellence in their fields. Levtow will spend a semester conducting research at the American Academy in Berlin, where he will have the opportunity to engage in dialogue with American and German academic, corporate, cultural and political leaders.
The American Academy in Berlin has become one of Europe’s most visible and effective institutions of transatlantic dialogue in recent years and has been described as the world’s most important center for American intellectual life outside the United States.
“It will be an honor to represent UM at the American Academy in Berlin,” said Levtow, who is one of only 13 American Fellows attending the academy this fall and the first-ever Fellow from Montana. “I’ve dreamed of spending a semester in Germany – Berlin especially – since I was an undergraduate student. Now I’ll finally have the chance to see and work in the great German universities and cultural institutions that gave birth to my field of modern biblical and religious studies.”
The NEH fellowship represents an equally unique opportunity of an entirely different kind. Unlike the Berlin Prize, it is not linked to any single university or city. Rather, it gives scholars the chance to follow their research wherever it may take them, allowing Levtow to conduct research in the great libraries and antiquities museums of America, Europe and the Middle East.
“The NEH fellowship gives scholars the means to conduct difficult, important humanities scholarship and to communicate the necessity and value of humanities research in America today,” Levtow said. “It will also enable me to continue working on my project right here in Missoula, which means plenty of kayaking on the rivers after work.”
Founded in 1965, NEH is an independent federal agency and one of the largest funders of the humanities in the U.S. It promotes excellence in the humanities by awarding grants for top-rated proposals examined by panels of independent reviewers.
Through these fellowships, Levtow will use literary and archaeological evidence to produce the first catalog of evidence tracking the politically charged phenomenon of text destruction in the ancient world.
“I’ll identify and explain the significance of ancient text destruction traditions in the Bible,” Levtow said. “I believe this evidence will reveal the deep connections between religion, politics and writing at the dawn of literacy, in the Bible and through to today. If the digital revolution has shown us anything, it’s how the power of words continues to alter the history of nations, the freedoms of individuals and the world itself.”
While these fellowships provide Levtow the opportunity to focus on this work, he looks forward to sharing what he discovers with his students, emphasizing the importance of long-term investment in the humanities at UM.
“It’s important for me to note that I would not have received these fellowships without public support for the humanities,” he said. “The greatest responsibility I have is to use these fellowships to further humanist research and teaching at UM, to represent humanities scholarship to the best of my abilities, and to inform and inspire my students.”