Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imaginationby John V. Tolan
In the first century of Islam, most of the former Christian Roman Empire, from Syria to Spain, was brought under Muslim control in a conquest of unprecedented proportions. Confronted by the world of Islam, countless medieval Christians experienced a profound ambivalence, awed by its opulence, they were also troubled by its rival claims to the spiritual inheritance… See more details below
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In the first century of Islam, most of the former Christian Roman Empire, from Syria to Spain, was brought under Muslim control in a conquest of unprecedented proportions. Confronted by the world of Islam, countless medieval Christians experienced a profound ambivalence, awed by its opulence, they were also troubled by its rival claims to the spiritual inheritance of Abraham and Jesus and humiliated by its social subjugation of non-Muslim minorities. Some converted. Others took up arms. Still others, the subjects of John Tolan's study of anti-Muslim polemics in medieval Europe, undertook to attack Islam and its most vivid avatar, the saracen, with words.In an effort to make sense of God's apparent abandonment of Christendom in favor of a dynamic and expanding Muslim civilization, European writers distorted the teachings of Islam and caricatured its believers in a variety of ways. What ideological purposes did these portrayals serve? And how, in turn, did Muslims view Christianity? Feelings of rivalry, contempt, and superiority existed on both sides, tinged or tempered at times with feelings of doubt, inferiority, curiosity, or admiration. Tolan shows how Christian responses to Islam changed from the seventh to thirteenth centuries, through fast-charging crusades and spirit-crushing defeats, crystallizing into polemical images later drawn upon by Western authors in the fourteenth to twentieth centuries. Saracens explores the social and ideological uses of contempt, explaining how the denigration of the other can be used to defend one's own intellectual construction of the world.
A significant contribution to the study of Islam's place in the medieval Christian imagination, this work is highly recommended.
William E. Watson
Anna Sapir Abulafia
Medievalist Tolan shows how the relatively fluid European beliefs about Islam turned rigid in the 13th century, leading to strict laws that separated Christians from Muslims and produced even greater distortions in perception.
Mohammed Siddique Seddon
Tolan's book is welcome as a rare systematic treatment of medieval Christian attitudes toward Muslims.... Tolan's remarks invite us to explore the important question of why that is so.
Saracens contains comprehensive notes, a thorough bibliography, and an excellent index... A useful summary of the current state of hitoriography in the field.
Tolan's model for Christian attitudes toward Islam is the reactions of early Christians to the Roman Empire... Tolan's book is full of interesting details on individual thinkers' views on Islam and provides a welcome addition.
Had the late Edward Said and Daniel Norman collaborated to produce a volume incorporating their particular hermeneutical expertise and scholastic grasp of religious polemics it may well have looked something similar to John V. Tolan'sSaracens.... Tolan's work, which is superbly researched, explores the plethora of distorted representations of Islam perpetuated throughout the period.
The best of all recently published books on Christian-Islamic relations.
A thoroughgoing reference work like Saracens was long overdue; it is also quite timely.
- Columbia University Press
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