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Attend: Mediterranean Studies at the AAR (20 November: San Antonio TX)

Join us at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion on at 9am on Sunday, 20 November at 9am in the Crockett A room (4th Level) of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Antonio, Texas for the session sponsored by the Religion in Premodern Europe and the Mediterranean Group on the theme, “Intellectual Interactions and Interactions Among Intellectuals,” with Brian A. Catlos, (Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder) presiding

This session brings together four papers that examine religious interaction and influence across the greater Mediterranean world, from Armenia and the Islamic East through Byzantium and Ethiopia to the Maghrib and Spain. The emphasis is on intellectual dimensions of religious belief and experience, including syncretism, conversion, textual transmission, polemic, and the perception of religious out-groups. The papers question the notion that religions comprise homogeneous, consistent systems that are necessarily bound up in oppositional relationships with one another, even as they acknowledge the power that the doctrinal paradigm exercises over notions of identity. They also explore the way in which texts present interreligious encounters, including how and why these texts were adapted and diffused. The panel will be of interest not only to scholars of premodern religion but also to those interested in inter-communal relations or the development of theological and textual traditions.

Jonathan E. Brockopp, Pennsylvania State University
Scholars and Connectivity: The Early Arabic Manuscript as Relic and Reliquary

New research on the collection of manuscripts from the ancient mosque-library of Kairouan, Tunisia, has revealed it to be the largest collection of early Arabic manuscripts known. This unique collection offers unparalleled opportunities to understand how and why manuscripts were transmitted and used within scholarly communities. In this paper, I will cite evidence from this collection to demonstrate that these early communities were in active communication with each other, sending out students and bringing back texts. Moreover, I argue that this was a religious as well as a scholarly project. To capture this element, I suggest that we ought to regard scholarly travel as a form of pilgrimage.

Just as pilgrims will see themselves transformed as the result of a process of travel, ritual activity and return, so also these scholars are transformed in a rite of passage that was considered essential for their acceptance as legal authorities. But pilgrims also commonly bring back relics – and when scholars go to Medina to gain knowledge, they bring relics of these trips: the books of famous scholars. In turn, these texts were sometimes transformed into beautiful works of art, reliquaries of a sort. While we only have a few surviving examples of manuscripts as relics and reliquaries from before 1,000 CE, I suggest that they indicate a widespread culture of veneration and exchange that greatly enlivens our understanding of early Muslim scholarly communities.

Alfons Teipen, Furman University
Muhammad, Heraclius, and the Negus: Sira-Maghazi Literature as Mirror of Muslim-Christian Relations in Late Antiquity

This paper will study selected narratives about the interaction between Arab Muslims and non-Muslims with Christian rulers in the rendition of Ibn Ishâq, al- Wâqidî , and Ibn Sa’d, and analyze how variants in their respective narrative presentation can be utilized to learn more about each author’s / collector’s understanding of the Muslim community and its relationship to Christianity. Focusing on the characterization of Muslims and non-Muslims, and narratives of conversion in these varying presentations will allow us to contrast different understandings of Muslim communal identity vis-à-vis religious alterity.
From the differences in narrative sequencing, repetition and omission, and minor differences in detail, significant observations can be drawn as to the “location,” intended audience, and “Sitz im Leben” of each narrative.

Peter Cowe, University of California, Los Angeles
Interreligious Interaction as Confrontation, Conversion, Syncretism: Paradigms of Medieval Armenian Contact with Islam around the Eastern Mediterranean

Despite the popular view that religions as thought systems and institutions are by definition robustly distinct from one another and internally homogeneous, this paper argues that the requisite conditions (e.g. easy communications, mass printing, etc.) for such outward distinctiveness and inner consistency did not exist in the pre-modern period and that the binary opposition posited of religious interchange either as a) confrontation (polemics, apologetics) or b) assimilation through conversion, that has attracted most scholarly attention, does not exhaust the possibilities of interaction, but must be complemented by examples where the religious encounter results in various forms of coalescence and coinherence. It is the contention of this paper that, while the first two forms of interaction are generally characteristic of normative forms of religions, the latter tends to be associated with non-normative or heterodox expressions of the religions in question. The paper illustrates these arguments with reference to the medieval Armenian Christian interchange with Islam, which it parallels with the contemporary situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Alan Verskin, University of Rhode Island
Maimonides’ on Conversion to Judaism: Between the Bible and Islam

Constructing a theology of conversion to Judaism involves explaining its advantages over other religions. It thus involves embracing some of Judaism’s particularist claims to superiority and exclusivity. For Maimonides, whose theological project was that of re-articulating Judaism in the framework of universalistic reason, the concept of conversion posed a challenge. What does Judaism have to offer over the monotheism of a philosopher or over the monotheism other religions? Maimonides’ writings do not articulate a unified position on conversion. In some places, he emphasizes the absolute equality between the Jew-from-birth and the convert. Elsewhere, however, he indicates that there are significant limitations to this equality. To account for these differences, this paper places Maimonides’ writings on conversion in the broader context of his thought. It shows how he used traditional Jewish sources to construct his position as well as drawing upon ideas about conversion that were current among his Islamic contemporaries.


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