Joan Westenholz received her Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from the University of Chicago. She has served as Chief Curator at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem and as Senior Research Associate on the Assyrian Dictionary Project of theOriental Institute at the University of Chicago. At present, she is a Research Fellow at the Internationales Kolleg für Geisteswissenschaftliche Forschung, „Dynamiken der Religionsgeschichte zwischen Asien und Europa“ at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum.
Her research has concentrated on ancient Mesopotamian studies, especially on the subjects of religion and literature. She has investigated Mesopotamian theological conceptions, in particular examining the responsibilities of religious officiants in ancient Mesopotamian temples. The understanding of heroic epics of the Sargonic kings of the first empire-building Dynasty of Akkad has been the focus of her literary interests. She has studied the historical events and the process of their transformation in Akkadian heroic traditions. Her present lexicographical research, together with Dr. Marcel Sigrist, is focused on the earliest anatomical lexicon in order to determine the Mesopotamian perception of human biology. She is the author of numerous articles concentrating on issues of gender, women and goddesses, scrutinizing the conceptualization of the female role in Mesopotamian society as well as the construction of masculine and feminine ritual roles in Mesopotamia.
During her year at ISAW, she will focus on the contextualization of ancient Mesopotamian religion in the broader geographical and chronological framework of Eurasian cultural interrelations and religious exchange. In order to deduce the processes underlying the diffusion of religious beliefs, her research project utilizes the worship of one Mesopotamian deity, the goddess Nanaya, as a prism through which these processes can be analyzed into their constituent facets. The intriguing questions of the direction and mode of the adoption and adaptation of the worship of Nanaya across geographical and religious boundaries are among the research questions that she will be addressing.