Alumni Spotlight: D. Gershon Lewental '02

I graduated in 2003 with a double major in Near Eastern Studies and Economics and an International Relations concentration. Confident that I wanted to pursue a career in academia, I started immediately working on my PhD at Brandeis University, where I wrote a dissertation on the changing perceptions of a battle during the Arab-Islamic conquest of Iran over time. This project, which won the Foundation for Iranian Studies Best Dissertation Award, actually began as a junior year research paper for Prof. David Powers’ Seminar in Islamic History. In 2012, I began teaching at the University of Oklahoma and, from 2017 to 2022, I taught at Shalem College in Jerusalem. Currently, I continue to teach at the University of Oklahoma and also teach at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Primarily, I work in the field of Islamic historiography and Iranian history, but I also study Central Asia, Israeli society, and the history of the Baha’i faith. In addition to my teaching and research, I have served as Associate Editor of the Journal of Persianate Societies, since 2015, and as an active board member of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, as well as in other professional organisations.

I reside in Zikhron Yaaqov, a small town near Israel’s coast with my wife Sitora and two daughters, Yasminah and Nozdonah, who occupy whatever free time I have. But I do maintain my Cornell pride and serve as the co-chair of the Israel Cornell Club and the chair of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN), where I get to meet applicants to Cornell.

Without question, my years as an NES major had an enormous impact on my career path, my scholarship, and my teaching. During my time at Cornell, I studied with nearly every member of the department at the time in an effort to broaden my horizons. My professors—who have since become my colleagues—provided me with critical foundational knowledge that has served me throughout my career, while demonstrating sincere interest in my growth as a student and fostering intellectual curiosity that drives me still today. Thinking of my NES professors, I can recall specific and important lessons that they imparted to me—and I have strived throughout my career as an instructor to play the same role in my own students’ lives. If there is one tip that I can offer to current and potential NES majors, it is that the professors in the department are amongst the most dedicated and enthusiastic about their students’ learning and achievements.

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Ezra Cornell statue facing A.D. White statue and Goldwin Smith Hall, fall color on the trees