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Mira BalbergMira Balberg

Professor, Endowed Chair in Studies in Ancient Jewish Civilizations

Department of History

Mira Balberg received her Ph.D. in religious studies from Stanford University in 2011. Before her appointment at UC San Diego, she was associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Northwestern University.

She is a scholar of ancient Mediterranean religious history, with a focus on the emergence and development of Judaism in antiquity (200 BCE – 500 CE). She is especially interested in the cultural contacts of Jews with their surrounding communities and with the imperial forces that shaped the Middle East in the Roman period. She has published three books and numerous articles on the development of rabbinic Judaism in the second and third centuries in light of broader developments in the late ancient Greek and Roman world.

A winner of several teaching and mentoring awards, Dr. Balberg will teach classes on ancient Mediterranean religions, death and dying in antiquity, the Bible and history, and Judaism in the Greek and Roman eras. She has a special interest in health and medicine in antiquity, and plans to develop courses in the greater area of medical humanities.

What excites you most about coming to UC San Diego?

I am excited about several things: the department I am joining, which has top-notch faculty and wonderful and committed staff, the quality of research done at UC San Diego, and the various centers on campus that promote interdisciplinary conversations. But I am most excited about the university’s strong commitment to undergraduate education, in which it is unparalleled. My impression is that it is the university’s highest priority to provide students not only with knowledge, but also with enduring skills of learning, with a nurturing intellectual environment. I am thrilled to become part of this commitment.

Why did you choose your field of study?

I think that getting to know the past and understanding the worlds of people who came before us is one of the most rewarding things we humans can do. This is for three reasons: first, because the past reveals so many alternative possibilities and ways of existing. We often think that there is only one way of living in a family, or being a citizen in a state, or dealing with death, and studying history expands our mind and makes us see a much more rich and diverse world.

Second, we are often “trapped” in the past: we do things and think things without knowing why we do and think them, and looking at history helps us understand the sources of our habits and convictions, which can be quite liberating. Third, trying to figure out what happened in the past is like trying to solve a mystery using clues that were left for you (and the more distant the past you study, the fewer clues you have). It’s always challenging, thought provoking, and fun.

What advice do you have for students who choose to major in arts and humanities?

My main advice is: do it! I strongly recommend majoring in the arts and humanities. I think that this course of study, more than any other, develops the kinds of skills that make you not only a more interesting person but also better suited for any job you might choose: you will learn to communicate clearly and efficiently, to have a discussion while embracing disagreements, to write compellingly, to see multiple angles of complex situations, and to think creatively. My additional advice would be to reflect frequently on what it is that you like about your classes: what excites you, and what bores you? What sort of assignments stimulate you, and why? Understanding yourself, your interests and what makes you want to learn is key to figuring out your future trajectory.

How do you view your role relative to the greater regional community?

Insofar as many of UC San Diego’s students are local, my primary role is that of a teacher: I am committed to offering interesting, invigorating and accessible classes to all who want to attend them, and to nurture and support students of all backgrounds and courses of study. I also hope to get involved in public humanities enterprises: in my previous position I have been involved with the Chicago Humanities Festival, and I would love to be part of a greater community of scholars, artists, performers and activists who will create dynamic cultural events for residents of the San Diego-Tijuana area.

Tell us something about yourself that is not normally mentioned in your bio.

I love acting, and have participated in several low-key theater productions in my day. I don’t really do much of that anymore, but fortunately teaching has a good bit of acting to it, so all is not lost.