The transmission of ideas between religious communities in the medieval world of Islam

funded by the Einstein Foundation Berlin

Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the educated elite as well as uneducated masses, had Arabic (and at times Persian) as their common language and therefore naturally shared a similar cultural background. Often reading the same books and all speaking and writing in the same language, they created a unique intellectual commonality in which an ongoing, constant exchange of ideas, texts, and forms of discourse beyond communal barriers was the norm. This characteristic of the medieval world of Islam – which created what has aptly been described as a “whirlpool effect” [1] or a “crosspollination” [2] – requires that the study of the intellectual tradition of any of the three monotheistic religions disregard religious borders and that the one-dimensional perspective that still prevails in modern research be replaced by true multi-dimensionalism. The same applies for the so-called “Eastern Question”, i.e., the Muslims’ interaction with the intellectual traditions of the East, i.e., Iranian, Indian, Central Asian and perhaps even further East, and the people who transmitted and developed them. The purpose of the School will be to familiarize the student participants with an integrative approach to the historiography of intellectual developments in the medieval, post-medieval and early modern period. Such a methodology requires first of all that the various intellectual histories be read together in order to analyze the ways in which their thought was formed and fashioned. Only such an integrative approach can allow us to fully grasp the various multidimensional flows of ideas and their respective transformation. [3] In addition to the philosophical/theological analysis of the material in question, the social aspects of the transmission of writings particularly beyond communal barriers shed an important light on the ways in which these processes of transmission took place. Through a number of exemplary topics, this methodological approach will be presented to the participants. Possible topics are:

  • The historiography of philosophy and science in al-Andalus during the 10th to 12th centuries CE;
  • The Jewish reception of Muʿtazilism during the 10th and 11th centuries CE;
  • Intimate intellectual friendships across religious boundaries;
  • Exchange of ideas between Muslims and Jews as building blocks of thirteenth-century oriental philosophy (the case of the two towering Jewish philosophers Abu l-Barakat al-Baghdadi and ʿIzz al-Dawla Ibn Kammūna;
  • Ancient Iran, Central Asia, East Asia and India and their meeting points with the intellectual currents of the Muslim world.

[1] Sarah Stroumsa, “The Muslim Context,” The Cambridge History of Jewish Philosophy From Antiquity Throughout the Seventeenth Century, eds. St. Nadler and T.M. Rudavsky, Cambridge 2009, pp. 39-59.

[2] Lenn E. Goodman, Jewish and Islamic Philosophy: Crosspollinations in the Classical Age, Edinburgh 1999.

[3] For this matter, see Sarah Stroumsa, Maimonides and His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker, Princeton/Oxford 2009, pp. xi-xv (Preface). This the topic has been dealt in various workshops, the proceedings of which will appear in forthcoming publications, e.g. H. Ben-Shammai, S. Stroumsa and Sh. Shaked), Exchange and Transmission Across Cultural Boundaries: Philosophy and Science in the Mediterranean World. Proceedings of a Workshop in Memory of Professor Shlomo Pines, Jerusalem 28 February -2 March 2005(Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences, forthcoming); D. Freidenreich and M. Goldstein (eds.) Border Crossings: Interreligious interaction and the exchange of ideas in the Islamic Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming); D. Freidenreich and M. Goldstein (eds.) Border Crossings: Interreligious Interaction and the Exchange ofIideas in the Islamic Middle Ages(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press; forthcoming). Both these studies, which show the interest of the scholarly community in this vast and crucially important topic, which has , barely begun to be addressed.


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