Infectious Ideas: Contagion in Premodern Islamic and Christian Thought in the Western Mediterranean

Overview

Infectious Ideas is a comparative analysis of how Muslim and Christian scholars explained the transmission of disease in the premodern Mediterranean world.

How did religious communities respond to and make sense of epidemic disease? To answer this, historian Justin K. Stearns looks at how Muslim and Christian communities conceived of contagion, focusing especially on the Iberian Peninsula in the aftermath of the Black Death. What Stearns discovers calls into question recent ...

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Infectious Ideas: Contagion in Premodern Islamic and Christian Thought in the Western Mediterranean

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Overview

Infectious Ideas is a comparative analysis of how Muslim and Christian scholars explained the transmission of disease in the premodern Mediterranean world.

How did religious communities respond to and make sense of epidemic disease? To answer this, historian Justin K. Stearns looks at how Muslim and Christian communities conceived of contagion, focusing especially on the Iberian Peninsula in the aftermath of the Black Death. What Stearns discovers calls into question recent scholarship on Muslim and Christian reactions to the plague and leprosy.

Stearns shows that rather than universally reject the concept of contagion, as most scholars have affirmed, Muslim scholars engaged in creative and rational attempts to understand it. He explores how Christian scholars used the metaphor of contagion to define proper and safe interactions with heretics, Jews, and Muslims, and how contagion itself denoted phenomena as distinct as the evil eye and the effects of corrupted air. Stearns argues that at the heart of the work of both Muslims and Christians, although their approaches differed, was a desire to protect the physical and spiritual health of their respective communities.

Based on Stearns's analysis of Muslim and Christian legal, theological, historical, and medical texts in Arabic, Medieval Castilian, and Latin, Infectious Ideas is the first book to offer a comparative discussion of concepts of contagion in the premodern Mediterranean world.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review - Joseph P. Byrne

A welcome addition to the growing literature on plague—and medical thought—in the premodern Islamic world. Stearns's translations add new voices to those already known, and approach known figures with subtlety and nuance, challenging or at least refining the conclusions of the established scholarship... Stearns has provided future students commanding the requisite skills and depth of vision both a model and a solid target.

Journal of the American Oriental Society - Ruth A. Miller

Provides readers not only with a fascinating, beautifully researched account of contagion and plague in the premodern Western Mediterranean, but also with a series of thought-provoking new approaches to religious exegesis, legal interpretation, and literary production, and a set of methodological models that should serve scholars in the fields far beyond the realm of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century studies of illness and health in the Maghrib. The book is a fascinating read.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801898730
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 4/9/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Justin K. Stearns is an assistant professor in the Arab Crossroads Studies Program at New York University–Abu Dhabi.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Acknowledgments xv

Chronological List of Relevant Muslim and Christian Scholars Who Wrote on Contagion in the Premodern Period xvii

Introduction. Contagion and Causality in the Study of Premodern Muslim and Christian Societies 1

Chapter 1 Contagion in the Commentaries on Prophetic Tradition 13

Chapter 2 Contagion as Metaphor in Iberian Christian Scholarship 37

Chapter 3 Contagion Contested: Greek Medical Thought, Prophetic Medicine, and the First Plague Treatises 67

Chapter 4 Situating Scholastic Contagion between Miasma and the Evil Eye 91

Chapter 5 Contagion between Islamic Law and Theology 106

Chapter 6 Contagion Revisited: Early Modern Maghribi Plague Treatises 140

Conclusion. Reframing Muslim and Christian Views on Contagion 160

Appendix A Contagion in the Christian Exegetical Tradition 169

Appendix B The Presence of Ash'arism in the Maghrib 175

Notes 187

Bibliography 245

Index 267

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