Selected Publications

Between Thought & Action: An Intellectual Biography of Fethullah Gülen

Blue Dome (2022)

This volume has two goals. One is to explore the life and the thought of Fethullah Gülen and the important educational and peace-inducing activities in which he and those inspired by him have been engaged for several decades. The outcome of those efforts―of creating schools and providing diverse social and cultural services that bring people together people from diverse ackgrounds―has been to provide the face of civic and civil Islam as an antidote to the uglier side of political Islam. The second goal has been to make clear how the accusations against Mr. Gülen by the minions of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could hardly be more false: that what Gülen and the hizmet (service) movement that he has inspired are ultimately about is improving the world and saving it form its uglier inclinations. A brief discussion of his life and thought has been supplemented by the voices of more than 70 interviews conducted over several years, with individuals intimate and more distant but all inspired to be part of the process of serving humanity.

Tradition and Transformation: Three Millennia of Jewish Art and Architecture 

Canal Street Studios, 2016 (second edition: Eshel Books, 2022)

This unique volume addresses the idea of Jewish art and architecture by posing and responding to a series of questions. These begin with the unresolved conceptual definition of “Jewish” and continue with the historical observation that Abraham was called a Hebrew; Moses and David were Israelites; Ezra was a Judaean–terms different from the terms “Jew” and “Jewish.” Where ought one to place Israelite and Judaean objects within the understanding of Jewish art and architecture? The narrative further asks: when one uses the phrase “Jewish art and architecture,” is the reference the work of art or the identity of the artist? Is the criterion subject, style, symbol, purpose? Is it the artist’s convictions—does he or she need to be consciously trying to make “Jewish” art? Does an artist who converts into or out of Judaism suddenly begin or cease to make Jewish art?
Against the background of these questions, the narrative follows a trajectory that moves from the Israelite period to the present day, and carries from the Middle East to Europe, Asia, North Africa, and South and North America. It is the journey, not the arrival that is important. Through the presentation and analysis of over a thousand works in diverse media—more than 700 of which are depicted—the author continuously addresses the ways in which artworks and artists do and/or do not fit comfortably into the rubric “Jewish art” or “Jewish architecture.” In the end there is no absolute definition that will apply simply across such a vast and lush realm of creativity. Perhaps this is the point, however. For asking questions without easy answers or without answers at all may be the consummate Jewish art.

Growing Up Jewish in India: Synagogues, Customs, and Ceremonies from the Bene Israel to the Art of Siona Benjamin

Niyogi Books, (2021)

A distinctive historical account of the primary Jewish communities of India, their synagogues, and unique Indian Jewish customs, tracing how Jews arrived in the vast subcontinent at different times from different places and have both inhabited dispersed locations within the larger Indian world, and ultimately created their own diaspora within the larger Jewish diaspora by relocating to other countries, particularly Israel and the United States.

The text and its rich complement of over 150 images explore how Indian Jews retained their unique characteristics as Jews, became well-integrated into the larger society of India as Indians, and have continued to offer a synthesis of cultural qualities wherever they reside. Among the outcomes of these developments is the unique art of Siona Benjamin, who grew up in the Bene Israel community of Mumbai and then moved to the US, and whose art synthesizes a range of influences creating visual acts of Tikkun Olam (‘repairing the world’). This volume offers a unique verbal and visual portrait of a significant slice of Indian and Jewish culture and tradition.

Includes essays by three additional scholars and a memoir by Siona Benjamin.

Eros and Eris: Love and Strife In and Beyond the Greco-Roman World                                      

New Academia Publishers (2021)

A unique examination of Greek and Roman culture through the lens of the ongoing tension and dynamic relationship between apparently opposed aspects of human interaction, as expressed in literature, philosophy, and art; and an extended “epilogue” that considers how this universal interaction is reflected in literature beyond the Greco-Roman world, from the Bible to the Bhagavad Gita and from Dante’s Divine Comedy to West Side Story.

God and the Goalposts: A Brief History of Sports, Religion, Politics, War, and Art 

Bartleby Press (second edition; 2021)

Crossing the goal line, with the football tucked safely in his arms, the NFL star falls on one knee, bows his head, crosses himself and utters a prayer of thanksgiving to God, giving one more example of the ever expanding connection between sports and religion. At least it seems to be expanding. The question is: has there been truly a notable surge in the relationship between sports and religion? And if there has been a surge, is it unique in history, or merely part of an ongoing ebb and flow? This book offers a concise yet detailed account of this multifaceted association ―and its implications for the ongoing game (the ultimate sport!) of trying to understand what we humans are as a species. Sports is one among many areas where religion and its concerns have played a role, and the interweave between sports and religion is as old as sports and as continuous as religion.

Immortality, Memory, Creativity, and Survival: The Arts of Alice Lok Cahana, Ronnie Cahana, and Kitra Cahana

Fritz Ascher Society Publications (2020)

This unusual, interdisciplinary book—originally intended to accompany an exhibition still in abeyance due to Covid-19—encompasses the exploration of several interwoven issues. It considers how the idea of immortality is an aspect of family and of art: we can transcend death by the children and descendants that we produce, as we can by the creative works that we leave behind. Questions of survival and immortality are particularly present in the artistically expansive family of Alice Lok Cahana, a Holocaust survivor and painter; her son Rabbi Ronnie Cahana, a poet and stroke survivor; and his daughter Kitra Cahana, a photographer and filmmaker who embeds herself with profound empathy in communities in order to tell their stories.

Complementing the handsomely illustrated discussions of art and immortality by Soltes are essays by three well-known authorities on the physiology of memory, the question of trauma and its transmission from one generation to the next, and the complex story of children and grandchildren of the survivors of the Holocaust and similar emotional catastrophes. This book tells a complex story of human experience, legacy, and meaning.

Then and Now: Love Lost and Sometimes Found

Canal Street Studios (2019)

This book of poems reflects on different aspects of love—parent-to-child, child-to-parent, sibling-to-sibling, spouse-to-spouse—and its many complications, by sweeping through a range of times, places, and circumstances. That range offers encounters with important works of literature and art and the occasional historical character in the Greek and Roman tradition, with key figures in the Bible, with obscure medieval characters—like Astrolabe, the son of Heloise and Abelard—and with everyday people who were or are part of the poet’s own life. As we read through these sensitively crafted works we recognize, in fact, that the heroic figures celebrated in history, literature, and art are everyday people, with everyday hopes, concerns, ambitions, problems, questions, and most of all, desires, hidden beneath the surfaces of texts and images that have been admired for centuries

Untangling the Middle East: A Guide to the Past, Present, and Future of the World’s Most Volatile Region

(an updated and expanded edition of the 2010 volume, Untangling the Web)
Skyhorse Publishing (2017)

Untangling the Middle East is a layman’s guide to the history—political, religious, and cultural—that led us to the current challenges plaguing the Middle East. It covers the major interests and actors in the region, and helps to spin a narrative of the evolution of violence and conflict in this age-old hotbed of unrest. The Middle East may be a mess but it need not be a mystery, with the help of this indispensable guide.

Magic and Religion in the Greco-Roman world: the Beginnings of Judaism and Christianity

Academia-West Press (2017)

This volume offers an account of how Judaism and Christianity emerged in the Greco-Roman world of multi-aspected Paganisms as distinct, related faiths, each claiming to properly continue the Hebrew-Israelite-Judaean tradition; how their spiritual relationship was affected by their mutual interface, their theological relationships with Paganism, and the political context of Pagan Rome; why and how the vocabulary of religion, magic, superstition, heresy and true belief emerged and evolved; and how the shaping of that vocabulary has affected and continues to affect our sense of what Judaism and Christianity are.

Jews on Trial: Judges, Juries, Prosecutors and Defendants from the Era of Jesus to Our Own Time 

Eshel Books (2013)

From the Gospel account of Jesus’ trial and punishment to medieval Blood Libels, from the notorious Dreyfus Affair to the story of Leo Frank’s trial and eventual lynching, and from the State of Israel’s trial and execution of Nazi Adolph Eichmann to Jonathan Pollard’s closed-door trial and ongoing incarceration, it seems that the Jew, one way or another, is always on trial in the courtroom of journalistic and historiographic examination, whether as the accused, the accuser, the jury or the judge.

Embracing the World: Fetullah Gulen’s Thought and Its Relationship to Jalaluddin Rumi and Others

Tughra Books (2013)

This book is not a comprehensive study of Rumi and Gülen, but it seeks to explore the places where the thought of the one is echoed in the thinking of the other, either overtly or indirectly—and to note ways in which the opposite is true: that Gülen diverges from Rumi. The book is also seeking to suggest some of the larger contexts in which the thinking of both resides. Given the wide-ranging aspects of their respective writings, it should not be surprising if, minimally, we can find important foundation stones in both philosophy and theology in the edifices that they each construct.

Preventing Violence and Achieving World Peace: The Contributions of the Gulen Movement (co-editor with Margaret Johnson)

Peter Lang (2012)

How can we address the seemingly endless conflicts in the world, particularly those arising from misunderstandings of Islam by both Muslims and non-Muslims? “Preventing Violence and Achieving World Peace: The Contributions of the Gulen Movement” presents the essays of eight scholars who consider the diverse ways in which the Guelen Movement or hizmet (service to others) – inspired by contemporary Turkish social philosopher Fetullah Guelen – has worked to answer this question. Drawing from various intellectual and theological sources, particularly Sufism, these essays indicate multiple instances of positive interfaith and/or multicultural dialogue. In addition, they consider how the writings of Guelen and the works of the Guelen Movement, through an extensive program of education and communication, have contributed significantly to efforts that oppose violence and shape universal peace.

Untangling the Web : A Thinking Person’s Guide to Why theMiddle East is a Mess and Always Has Been

Bartleby Press (2010)

This book offers a concise yet detailed overview of the complex issues that have defined the Middle East for thousands of years: religion, politics, ethnicity, nationality and economics as individual threads of complication interwoven with threads of conflicting and confusing definitions, aspirations and interferences. This is a guide to the morass that offers essential background to understanding the present realities in the region, and is accessible to anyone.

The Glory of Ukraine: Golden Treasures and Lost Civilizations

Foundation for International Arts and Education (2010)

This book offers sumptuous images covering over 6,000 years of history and culture from the territory of Ukraine. All the items shown and discussed – from pottery to weapons to jewelry to religious artifacts – derive from the PlaTar collections in Kiev. The book was published by the Foundation in confunction with an exhibition of the same name (See the Exhibition page of this website).

Mysticism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: Searching for Oneness

Rowman and Littlefield (2008)

This unique volume presents the common roots, divergences and convergences of mysticism in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. It offers both a conceptual discussion—what is mysticism within religion? what are its goals and purposes? what are its basic methods?—and a historical sweep that carries from the Bible to the modern era. The final chapter offers interesting insights into a handful of contemporary works of literature, visual art and film as a demonstration of the ongoing search for oneness with the One in an age far less secular than one might suppose.

The Problem of Plato’s Cratylus: The Relation of Language to Truth in the History of Philosophy

The Edwin Mellen Press (2007)

The Ashen Rainbow

Eshel Books (2006)

This splendid collection of essays considers much of the range of ways in which, by paradox, the ineffably destructive Holocaust has, particularly in the last forty years, provoked an outpouring of creative responses to it. From the prose words of Elie Wiesel and the poetry of Nobel Prize-winner Nellie Sachs to a range of media that extend beyond words: music, visual art, theater and film, humans have striven to record, combat  and later to explore if not explain the massive trauma of the Holocaust. The essays were written over the course of twenty years and may be read together or individually.

Our Sacred Signs: How Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Art Draw from the Same Source

Basic Books (2005)

This unusual volume examines a fascinating array of visual images to suggest three fundamental ideas. One, that the visual traditions within Judaism, Christianity and Islam are linked to each other in myriad ways, even as each form of faith refracts the symbolism of such linked imagery according to its own specific spiritual needs. Two, that all three traditions draw from conceptual and visual issues and ideas that pre-date any and all of them. Three, that the impulse to explore and express the abstract and ultimately unfathomable realm of divinity in visual terms, both directly and through indirect symbols, continues into the modern era and up to the present day.

Beyond the Golden Fleece: A Cultural History of the Jews of Georgia (editor)

Foundation for International Arts & Education (2004)

Inside & Out: House & Home

Bermuda National Gallery exhibition catalogue (2003)

Komar & Melamid: Symbols of the Big Bang

Yeshiva University Museum Exhibition Catalogue (2002)

An extensive exploration of the path-breaking pair of artists who made the transition from the USSR to America, continually renforcing and reinventing their visual voice: the last major series of artworks that they did together before going their seperat ways–and reflecting a clarified sense of their Jewish identity .

Fixing the World: Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century

University Press of New England (2002)

Focusing on a dazzling array of work by over eighty artists, Dr. Soltes explores themes ranging from the trials of immigration, depictions of urban life and politics, renderings of the Holocaust, and the spiritual yearnings of contemporary feminist painters. Despite such dramatic differences in content, he illuminates a common thread among these paintings – the concept of tikkun olam – of repairing or fixing the world.

Jewish Artists: On the Edge

Sherman Asher (2001)

A path-breaking discussion of the myriad ways in which Jewish artists pushed against the envelope of art toward the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries. The thesis of this book is that Jewish artists are more often than not on the cutting edge of artistic thinking, contrary to a still-prevailing stereotype that assumes that Jews shy away from visual art or produce shlock. Originally published as a caltogue for the exhibition of the same name at The Art Gallery of Santa Fe and the NMarian Art Center, Santa Fe, and Yeshiva Universiity Museum. Includesan essay by Donal Kuspit.

National Treasures of Georgia: Art and Civilisation Through the Ages (editor)

Philip Wilson (1999)

A stimulating exploration of the richness of Georgian culture going back through eight thousand years. In particular, metallurgy, pottery, illuminated manuscripts and textiles from the Neolithic period to the early twentieth-century modernist era are discussed. Essays by 21 scholars from around the world are included, together with stunning illustrations.


Art Across the Ages

DVD series (The Teaching Company)(DVD-ROM)

The Teaching Company (2008)

This unique group of 48 lavishly illustrated lectures covers the sweep of primarily Western art in half-hour sessions. It was taped for the Teaching Company’s “Ourstanding Professors” series.

The Life and Legacy of the Roman Empire, Parts 1 and 2 (Teaching Company) (Audio Cassette)

The Teaching Company (1994)

Twenty illustrated, half-hour lectures for the Teaching Company on the Roman world, covering general history, art, literature and music.

Ideas in Western Culture: The Medieval and Renaissance World (The SuperStar Teacher’s Series) (Audio Cassette)

The Teaching Company (1995)

Sixteen illustrated, half-hour lectures for The Teaching Company on the Medieval and Renaissance world, covering general history, art, literature and music.

Art and Soul

Chautauqua Institution (2005)

This is a lecture in the Chautauqua Institution of Religion’s “Great Lecture Library” (CD-Rom). Other lectures by Dr. Soltes are also available directly from the Chautauqua Institution