Media Releases

U of T scholars are first Canadians to win Mellon Foundation’s prestigious new directions fellowships

March 19, 2010

TORONTO, ON — Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to medieval his­to­ri­an Nicholas Everett and Walid Saleh, a schol­ar of reli­gion and Near and Mid­dle East­ern civ­i­liza­tions, have each been select­ed to receive a high­ly com­pet­i­tive New Direc­tions Fel­low­ship from the Mel­lon Foun­da­tion to pur­sue cross-dis­ci­pli­nary research. It is the first time the fel­low­ships, cre­at­ed in 2002, have been award­ed out­side of the Unit­ed States.

The New Direc­tions Fel­low­ships are unique in that they enable young human­ists to explore new lines of research by gain­ing addi­tion­al exper­tise in a field out­side of their area of spe­cial­iza­tion. For Nicholas Everett, who holds a PhD in his­to­ry, the fel­low­ship means he can do research shed­ding new light on the his­to­ry of med­i­cine and sci­ence by under­tak­ing spe­cial­ized course­work in phar­ma­col­o­gy and tox­i­col­o­gy.

“There has been an explo­sion of inter­est in the med­i­c­i­nal poten­tial of plant, min­er­al and ani­mal prod­ucts of the last decade. This renewed sci­en­tif­ic inter­est in nat­ur­al prod­uct phar­ma­cy pro­vides oppor­tu­ni­ties for a more sophis­ti­cat­ed under­stand­ing of human inter­ac­tion with the nat­ur­al world in the past, and the ratio­nale behind his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tions of drug use, dis­cov­ery and the­o­ry,” Everett says. “By under­stand­ing the chem­istry of nat­ur­al drugs and the process­es they affect, his­tor­i­cal texts on phar­ma­cy can be read more sen­si­tive­ly, claims more effec­tive­ly eval­u­at­ed and tra­di­tions bet­ter under­stood and explained.”

Everett will draw upon his train­ing to pur­sue three themes in the his­to­ry of phar­ma­cy which recent dis­cov­er­ies in bio­chem­istry, phar­ma­col­o­gy and neu­ro­science place in a new light: notions of taste and smell in rela­tion to health and phar­ma­cy; tra­di­tions of com­pound drugs; and what con­sti­tut­ed proof or the author­i­ty to declare a drug effec­tive or safe in the pre-mod­ern world. Trac­ing these themes across dif­fer­ent peri­ods and cul­tures, says Everett, will make impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions to our under­stand­ing of both the his­to­ry of sci­ence and the his­to­ry of med­i­cine.

Walid Saleh will use his fel­low­ship to under­take a com­pre­hen­sive uni­fied his­to­ry of the Ara­bic Bible in the Mid­dle East where three of the world’s major reli­gions — Chris­tian­i­ty, Judaism and Islam — began and still co-exist side by side. It’s a research direc­tion that arose quite serendip­i­tous­ly. “While research­ing the his­to­ry of Quran­ic inter­pre­ta­tion, my main field, I came across al-Biqa‘i (d. 1480) who used the Hebrew Bible and the four Gospels to inter­pret Bib­li­cal ref­er­ences in the Qur’an. This was an unprece­dent­ed use of these two scrip­tures in Islam,” says Saleh. The for­tu­nate find led him to real­ize that no com­pre­hen­sive study of the his­to­ry of the Bible in the Islam­ic reli­gious imag­i­na­tion had been done. “Such a study is essen­tial since the Ara­bic Bible rep­re­sents a tru­ly Jew­ish-Chris­t­ian-Islam­ic event in the col­lec­tive reli­gious his­to­ry of the Mid­dle East. The pres­ence of active mem­bers of the three com­mu­ni­ties side by side make for a fas­ci­nat­ing rela­tion­ship to the Bible, with each reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty aware of the oth­er’s views of the same book,” says Saleh. In par­tic­u­lar, Saleh plans to under­take seri­ous train­ing in Jew­ish study, includ­ing Bib­li­cal Hebrew, so as to chart a detailed his­to­ry of the ways in which Islam­ic reli­gious tra­di­tion inter­act­ed with the Bible and how each reli­gion’s inter­pre­ta­tion of the Bible affect­ed and influ­enced the oth­er.

“Schol­ar­ship that cross­es dis­ci­pli­nary bound­aries holds tremen­dous poten­tial,” says Mer­ic S. Gertler, dean of the Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. “Some of the most excit­ing dis­cov­er­ies and insights occur when dif­fer­ent fields inter­sect. We are delight­ed that the Mel­lon Foun­da­tion is not only enabling these two out­stand­ing human­ists to pur­sue their inno­v­a­tive research but is, through the New Direc­tions pro­gram, fos­ter­ing a stan­dard of excel­lence for cross-dis­ci­pli­nary research more gen­er­al­ly.”

The Mel­lon Foun­da­tion has long been known for its sup­port of the human­i­ties, arts and high­er edu­ca­tion. The New Direc­tions Fel­low­ships assist fac­ul­ty mem­bers in the human­i­ties and human­is­tic social sci­ences by enabling them to acquire sub­stan­tive and method­olog­i­cal train­ing out­side of their dis­ci­pline so they are able to work with sophis­ti­ca­tion on the spe­cif­ic research prob­lems that inter­est them most. Recip­i­ents of the fel­low­ships are rel­a­tive­ly ear­ly in their careers, hav­ing have received their PhD between five and 15 years pre­vi­ous­ly, and so the fel­low­ships are viewed as long-term invest­ments in a schol­ar’s intel­lec­tu­al range and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Nicholas Everett
Depart­ment of His­to­ry

Walid Saleh
Depart­ments of Reli­gion and of Near & Mid­dle East­ern Civ­i­liza­tions

Kim Luke
Fac­ul­ty of Arts & Sci­ence