Five faculty members elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

University Communications

Five UChicago faculty members are among the 213 national and international scholars, artists, philanthropists and business leaders newly elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: Profs. Joshua Frieman, Theaster GatesAli Hortaçsu, David Nirenberg and Michael Sells.

One of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies, the American Academy is also a leading center for independent policy research. Members contribute to Academy publications and studies of science and technology policy, global security and international affairs, social policy and American institutions, and the humanities, arts and education.

Joshua Frieman is a professor of astronomy & astrophysics and the College. He is also a member of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at UChicago and a member of the theoretical astrophysics group at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. He focuses his research on theoretical and observational cosmology, including studies of the nature of dark energy, the early universe, gravitational lensing, the large-scale structure of the universe and supernovae as cosmological distance indicators.

Frieman is a co-founder and director of the Dark Energy Survey, an international collaboration of more than 300 scientists from 25 institutions on three continents that investigates why the expansion of the universe is accelerating. The collaboration built a 570-megapixel camera for the four-meter Blanco Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile to conduct its observations. Previously Frieman led the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Supernova Survey, which discovered more than 500 type Ia supernovae for cosmological studies.

Frieman is an honorary fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Theaster Gates is a professor in visual arts and director of Arts + Public Life, housed at the Arts Incubator in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood. Gates leads an urban research initiative known as Place Lab—a team of social scientists, architects, creative professionals and business leaders. With support from the Knight Foundation, he and his team will create frameworks for reimagining the role that culture plays in the transformation of African American communities over the next three years.

Gates also is the founder and artistic director of Rebuild Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that endeavors to rebuild the cultural foundations of neighborhoods and incite movements of community revitalization that are culture-based, artist-led and neighborhood-driven. He has spearheaded numerous development projects in some of the most underserved parts of Chicago, which function as an extension of his studio work. Gates takes on the problem of Black space as a formal exercise, reminiscent of Beuys concept of social sculpture. His latest example is the Stony Island Arts Bank, owned and envisioned by Gates, which opened in October 2015 in conjunction with the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Ali Hortaçsu, the Ralph and Mary Otis Isham Professor of Economics, takes a data-driven approach to designing markets. He uses detailed data from existing markets to test economic models, estimates relevant model parameters using econometric and statistical methods, and simulates behavior under a variety of alternative market rules to derive improved market designs. Hortaçsu and his collaborators have used this approach to help guide the design of many real-world markets, including electricity markets, government bond auctions, central bank monetary operations, online auctions, and Internet matchmaking sites.

Hortaçsu has delivered invited lectures and keynote speeches at conferences around the world. He serves as co-editor of the Journal of Political Economy and was a member of the editorial board of the American Economic Review. He formerly served as co-editor of the RAND Journal of Economics and of the International Journal of Industrial Organization. He also is a fellow of the Econometric Society and was an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow between 2006 and 2008. He joined the UChicago faculty in 2001.

David Nirenberg is dean of the Division of Social Sciences and the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Professor of Social Thought, Medieval History, Middle East Studies and the College. Nirenberg focuses his research on the ways in which Jewish, Christian and Islamic societies have interacted with and thought about each other.

Nirenberg has co-edited three books and is the author of many others. His latest is Aesthetic Theology and its Enemies: Judaism in Christian Painting, Poetry, and Politics (2015). He also is author of Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (2014), which received Phi Beta Kappa’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize; and Neighboring Faiths: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, Medieval and Modern (2014). His first book, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages (1996), won four prizes and is now in its second edition.

Nirenberg formerly served as the Roman Family Director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, a humanistic research center devoted to addressing questions that transcend any single field or methodology. He joined the UChicago faculty in 2006.

Michael Sells is the John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature in the Divinity School and in the Department of Comparative Literature. He studies and teaches in the areas of qur’anic studies, Sufism, Arabic and Islamic love poetry, mystical literature (Greek, Islamic, Christian and Jewish), and religion and violence.

His work includes Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations and Qur’anic Studies Today, which he co-edited and to which he contributed. He has published three books on Arabic poetry: Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabian Odes; Stations of Desire; and The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature, Al-Andalus, which he coedited and to which he contributed. He has published two books on mysticism: Early Islamic Mysticism and Mystical Languages of Unsaying.

His work on religion and violence includes: The Bridge Betrayed: Religion and Genocide in BosniaThe New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy, which he co-edited and to which he contributed; “‘Armageddon’ in Christian, Sunni and Shia traditions,” Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence; “Finhas of Medina: Islam, ‘the Jews’, and the Construction of Militancy,” in Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts; and “Holocaust Abuse: The Case of Muhammad Hajj Amin al-Husayni,” in the Journal of Religious Ethics.

Members of the 2016 class include recipients of the Pulitzer and Wolf prizes, MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships, the Fields Medal, the Grammy Award and the National Book Award.

“It is an honor to welcome this new class of exceptional women and men as part of our distinguished membership,” said Don Randel, chair of the Academy’s board of directors. “Their election affords us an invaluable opportunity to bring their expertise and knowledge to bear on some of the most significant challenges of our day. We look forward to engaging these new members in the work of the Academy.”

The new class will be inducted at a ceremony Oct. 8 in Cambridge, Mass.