Colbert Cairns publishes book on biblical queen Esther

Dr. Emily Colbert Cairns, assistant professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, recently published her first book, “Esther in Early Modern Iberia and the Sephardic Diaspora: Queen of the Conversas.”

The book explores Queen Esther as an idealized woman in Iberia, as well as a Jewish heroine for conversos in the Sephardic Diaspora in the 16th and 17th centuries. The biblical Esther – the Jewish woman who marries the King of Persia and saves her people – was contested in the cultures of early modern Europe, authored as a symbol of conformity as well as resistance.

For a changing Iberian and broader European landscape, Esther was compelling and relatable precisely because of her hybridity, Colbert Cairns writes, noting that Esther was an early modern globetrotter and border transgressor.

The book analyzes the many retellings of the biblical heroine that were composed in a turbulent early modern Europe. These narratives reveal national undercurrents where religious identity was transitional and fluid, thus problematizing the fixed notion of national identity within a particular geographic location.

A graduate of Hamilton College, Colbert Cairns received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of California Irvine. Her research focuses on conversos and crypto-Jews in the early modern period in the Spanish-speaking world.

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