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The Origins of Language
Findings from Linguistics, Mathematics and Mysticism

Jun 22, 2019 6:00pm - Jun 23, 2019 4:00pm
Location: Hub925, 5341 Owens Court, Pleasanton, CA 94588

A two-day conference with Dr. Noam Chomsky, Dr. Elliot Wolfson and other leading scholars.

Image of Flyer for The Origins of Language Event


Due to health concerns, Dr. Noam Chomsky and Dr. Elliot Wolfson are unable to travel and attend the conference. They intend to present their papers at the conference via video recording or Skype. We are excited to confirm that the conference shall continue. If you have purchased tickets, we are pleased to be able to reserve your seats at the conference, while refunding 100% of the ticket cost. If you have not reserved seats, you can do so at no cost on our ticketing page, as a few spaces still remain. For more information on these changes, please click here.

Dr. Noam Chomsky, Dr. Aria Razfar and Dr. Marla Segol

Saturday, June 22—6:00-9:00pm

General Admission FREE
A light dinner will be served at 6:00pm. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.

Dr. Elliot Wolfson, Dr. Samuel Zinner and Dr. Noah Gardiner

Sunday, June 23—1:00-4:00pm

General Admission FREE
Refreshments will be served at 1:00pm. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.


The Origins of Language:
Findings from Linguistics, Mathematics and Mysticism

This special two-day conference will explore the origins, nature, function and purpose of language from the perspectives of linguistics, mathematics and mysticism. The speakers will be focusing on Semitic languages, including Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic, as well as Persian, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and English. From certain premodern perspectives, language is understood as sacred. Letters correspond to numbers and both provide keys to understanding the nature of the human being, the cosmos and the mystery of existence. Modern and postmodern linguistic perspectives have expanded our understanding of language, the mind and consciousness. Among the goals of the conference is to begin an interdisciplinary conversation on the origins of language that employs diverse paradigms, epistemologies and methods of inquiry from the past and the present. This unique two-day event will bring one of the world’s preeminent linguists, Dr. Noam Chomsky, into conversation with leading academic scholars of Jewish and Islamic mysticism. A limited number of tickets will be provided for free for students and guests who otherwise could not attend. Please contact us at [email protected].

Saturday, June 22—6:00-9:00pm

  • Dr. Noam Chomsky, “The Origins, Nature, Function and Purpose of Language: Findings from Linguistics”
  • Dr. Aria Razfar, “Linguistics, Literacy, and Lettrism: Implications for Learning and Development in Dystopian Times”
  • Dr. Marla Segol, “The Storied Lives of Letters in Jewish Mysticism”
  • Dinner
    • A light dinner will be served at 6:00pm. For every meal served at our events, we donate a meal to someone in need.

Sunday, June 23—1:00-4:00pm

  • Dr. Elliot Wolfson, “Disclosive Language: Poiesis and Apophatic Occlusion of Occlusion”
  • Dr. Samuel Zinner, “Overcoming Mind-Body Dualism in World and Text: Ancient Jewish and Modern Scientific Trajectories"
  • Dr. Noah Gardiner, “The Science of Letters and Names: ‘Cosmos-Making’ in Mature Islamic Thought”
  • Panel discussion
  • Refreshments
    • Refreshments will be served at 1:00pm.


Dr. Noam Chomsky is Laureate Professor of Linguistics at The University of Arizona and Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at MIT. Considered the founder of modern linguistics, Dr. Chomsky is one of the most cited scholars in modern history. Among his groundbreaking works on linguistics are Syntactic Structures (1957), Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), Language and Mind (1968) and The Minimalist Program (1995), each of which has made distinct contributions to the development of the field. He has received numerous awards, including the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences, the Helmholtz Medal and the Ben Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science. Dr. Chomsky introduced the Chomsky hierarchy, generative grammar and the concept of a universal grammar, which underlies all human speech and is based in the innate structure of the mind/brain. He has not only transformed the field of linguistics, his work has influenced fields such as cognitive science, philosophy, psychology, computer science, mathematics, childhood education, and anthropology. Dr. Chomsky is also a public intellectual and leading critic of US foreign policy. In 1967, he attracted widespread public attention for his anti-war essay entitled “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” Dr. Chomsky’s social and political works include The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (1983), Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), Deterring Democracy (1991) and 9-11 (2001).

Dr. Aria Razfar is Professor of Literacy, Language, and Culture and affiliate with Linguistics and Medical Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He earned his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2003. Dr. Razfar has established himself as one of the leading scholars in the fields of applied linguistics, education, and learning sciences. The U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation have provided major funding for his research on language learning, mathematics, and science. In 2014, Dr. Razfar was recognized for his scholarship by being named the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Researcher of the Year for the Social Sciences. He has also lectured on the relevance of linguistics, lettrism, and sacred texts in community centers, synagogues, churches, and mosques. Dr. Razfar has authored theoretically driven empirical studies and conceptual pieces that draw on qualitative and quantitative methods, sociocultural theories of learning, and the application of language ideologies in urban schools. His publications have appeared in premiere academic journals such as Anthropology of Education Quarterly, Human Development, Linguistics and Education, Mind, Culture, and Activity, and TESOL Quarterly. Dr. Razfar is also the author of Applying Linguistics in the Classroom: A Sociocultural Perspective (2014).

Dr. Marla Segol is Associate Professor of Jewish Thought and Global Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Buffalo. Her research and teaching interests include Kabbalah, Jewish magic, and the history of the body in religion. She is the author of Word and Image in Medieval Kabbalah: The Texts, Commentaries, and Diagrams of the Sefer Yetsirah (2012), Religious Conversion in Medieval Romance: Religious Conversion, History, and Genre in Floire Et Blancheflor, Aucassin et Nicolette, and Flamenca (2012), and with Dr. Jennifer Brown, Sexuality, Sociality and Cosmology in Medieval Literary Texts (2013).

Dr. Elliot Wolfson is Professor and Marsha and Jay Glazer Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He received BA and MA degrees from Queens College of the City University of New York, where he pursued the study of philosophy, focusing especially on phenomenology, hermeneutics, and existentialism. Dr. Wolfson received MA and PhD degrees from Brandeis University, where he specialized in the study of the Kabbalistic texts and traditions that have remained central to his scholarly work. He was the Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, where he taught between 1987 and early 2014. Dr. Wolfson is the author of numerous articles and books, including Pathwings: Philosophic and Poetic Reflections on the Hermeneutics of Time and Language (2004), Language, Eros, Being: Kabbalistic Hermeneutics and Poetic Imagination (2005), Alef, Mem, Tau: Kabbalistic Musings on Time, Truth, and Death (2006), A Dream Interpreted Within a Dream: Oneiropoiesis and the Prism of Imagination (2011), and Giving Beyond the Gift: Apophasis and Overcoming Theomania (2014).

Dr. Samuel Zinner received a PhD from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He is a scholar of ancient and modern history, literatures and linguistics, and a Holocaust researcher. Dr. Zinner contributed to German Scholars and Ethnic Cleansing 1920-1945 (2004), which was awarded the American Library Association’s prestigious “Choice Outstanding Academic Book of the Year Award” for 2005. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Gospel of Thomas: In the Light of Early Jewish, Christian and Islamic Esoteric Trajectories (2011), Christianity and Islam: Essays on Ontology and Archetype (2011), The Abrahamic Archetype: Conceptual and Historical Relationships between Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2012), and Textual and Comparative Explorations in 1 & 2 Enoch (2014).

Dr. Noah Gardiner is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of South Carolina. He is a scholar of Islamic thought and culture with particular research interests in Sufism, esotericism and the occult sciences, manuscript culture, and the Arabic-speaking Mediterranean of the 12th-15th centuries C.E. Much of his present research concerns the spread and development of the “science of letters and names” (‘ilm al-huruf wa’l-asma’), a body of mystico-magical thought on the relationship between divine speech and manifest reality that, with various caveats, can usefully be described as an Islamic Kabbalah. Dr. Gardiner completed his PhD in 2014 in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan. His dissertation, “Esotericism in a manuscript culture: Ahmad al-Buni and his readers through the Mamluk period,” concerns the seminal Sufi occultist Ahmad al-Buni.