John Zaleski (Dissertation Fellow)
John Zaleski is a Ph.D. candidate in the Committee on the Study of Religion at Harvard University. After completing his A.B. in Religion and Classics at Dartmouth College, John came to Harvard to study medieval Christian and Islamic history. His research has concentrated on the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East during the seventh through ninth centuries, a period of extensive exchange both among eastern Christian communities and between Christians and Muslims.
In his dissertation, John examines the exchange and the transformation of Late Antique ascetic traditions, through the lens of East Syrian Christian and early Muslim writing on the central ascetic disciplines of fasting and celibacy. Although East Syrian monks were politically and confessionally separated from the Orthodox churches of Byzantium, they nevertheless created a vigorous commentary tradition in which they studied and debated about Greek monastic texts, and in so doing, significantly developed early Orthodox traditions of ascetic practice. At the same time, Muslim authors in the eighth and ninth centuries adapted, rejected, or transformed these broader Orthodox ascetic ideals, in order to create self-consciously Islamic traditions of ascetic practice. The dissertation thus expands our understanding of the development of a diverse and cross-confessional Orthodox Christian ascetic tradition and reveals the multifaceted engagement of Muslim authors with this tradition.
John has undertaken research for his dissertation at Harvard University and, from September 2016 to May 2018, as a William R. Tyler fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. In addition, his research has taken him to examine Syriac and Arabic manuscripts in Birmingham, Fes, Istanbul, London, and Paris. He looks forward with great pleasure to joining the rich intellectual community of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center as he completes his dissertation.