The University of New Mexico Institute for Medieval Studies hosts its 26th Spring Lecture Series, "Medieval Encounters: Cultures in Contact, Convergence, and Conflict," April 11–14.
The event includes six lectures and a concert. Lectures are in Woodward Hall, room 101 on main campus, the concert in Keller Hall, in the UNM Center for the Arts. The lecture series, supported by a grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council, and is free and open to the public.
The series' opening lecture is Monday, April 11 at 7:15 p.m. and the event continues with 5:15 and 7:15 p.m. sessions on the following three days. Five nationally prominent, award-winning faculty come as visiting speakers. They hail from Boston University, Cornell University, Hebrew Union College, Southern Methodist University and the University of Tennessee. The concert, scheduled for Thursday, April 14, at 5:15 p.m., features UNM's Early Music Ensemble directed by Colleen Sheinberg, founder-member and co-director of Música Antigua de Albuquerque.
The series investigates how, in the centuries following the rise of Islam, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic cultures responded to one another, on one hand producing great cultural enrichment while on the other coming into ideological conflict. The event investigates the deep historical roots of issues that have significant resonance in the contemporary world.
The opening presentation will show how in ninth-century Baghdad, a great cultural endeavor was set in motion that sought to translate into Arabic the classics of Greek, Persian, and Indian philosophy and science. This endeavor demonstrated the vigor and flexibility of early Islam; it was also the means by which many of these classics were able to survive to the present day, for they were subsequently translated from Arabic into Latin, the European vernaculars, and Chinese, thereby spreading their influence to West and East. A subsequent lecture will examine medieval translations of the Qur'an and will show how medieval Christians responded to the Qur'an.
While the translations were typically rendered in an elevated form of language suitable to an authoritative religious text, most Westerners who read the Qur'an during the Middle Ages did so to attack it; the lecture will examine this paradox. Muhammad himself was a controversial figure for medieval Christians and Jews, who for the most part could not accept the Islamic view that he represented the last and greatest in a long line of prophets that included revered figures from their own traditions. One lecture examines how the figure of Muhammad is treated in medieval Jewish and Christian writings. Medieval Spain was a great meeting-place for the three cultures, which for several centuries were able to coexist there to their mutual enrichment; but as time went on, coexistence turned to confrontation and conflict. Two lectures consider the cultural fruits of Iberian convivencia and how the Christian Reconquista tended to produce increasingly negative stereotypes of "the other." Of special interest to New Mexicans, one presentation examines the Arabic roots of the acequia system in medieval Spain.
"‘Medieval Encounters' offer audiences a unique opportunity to learn how three great traditions that still have the potential to enrich or to confront one another in the modern world worked out their complex interrelationships during the Middle Ages," said Tim Graham, director, Institute for Medieval Studies.
Monday, April 11, 7:15 p.m.
Thomas F. Glick, "The Medieval Translation Movement(s): Baghdad, Spain, England, China"
During the ninth century, the great classics of Greek, Persian, and Indian science and philosophy were translated into Arabic at the Abbasid court of Baghdad. This extraordinary undertaking has been called the single greatest cultural achievement in human history, and was of key importance in preserving ancient learning and transmitting that learning to future generations in both the East and the West. After analyzing the Baghdad enterprise, Glick then describes the wave of further translation movements (Arabic into Latin and the European vernaculars, Arabic into Chinese) that were sparked. He demonstrates that the Arab and European movements had elements in common. First, the initial stimulus came from curiosity over hermetic lore, especially astrology; and second, because the package included the Indian arithmetical system (place units and zero), the movements had administrative, commercial and other practical repercussions. Third, the core of the corpus was mathematical and astronomical and had a transforming effect upon education wherever it was received.
Tuesday, April 12, 5:15 p.m.
Pamela Patton, "‘Aliens in Their Midst': Reimagining Jews in Reconquest Spain"
At its peak in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the movement traditionally known as the Spanish Reconquest transformed societies of the Iberian peninsula at nearly every level. Among the most vivid signs of this change were the innovative images developed by Christians to depict subjugated Muslims and Jews encompassed by the vastly expanded Christian kingdoms. Patton's lecture examines the new arsenal of visual stereotypes, symbols, and narratives aimed specifically at Iberian Jews, tracing their transformation from a deeply integrated minority into a community so ostracized that the Portuguese-Jewish ethicist Solomon Alami could speak of Jews living in Christian lands as "aliens in their midst."
Tuesday, April 12, 7:15 p.m.
Thomas E. Burman, "Medieval Christians and the Qur'an"
The Qur'an, which was translated into Latin twice in the Middle Ages, and once into Greek, was a widely-known work in the Christian world in the later medieval period (from ca. 1200 on), and it occupied a complex position in medieval Christian culture. A great many Christian scholars read it primarily to attack it and Islam more generally. Though this sort of hostile, polemical reading was often heavy-handed and based on a very poor understanding of Islam's holy book, there were Christian intellectuals, such as the Dominican Friar Riccoldo da Monte di Croce (d. 1320), who learned Arabic and read the Qur'an in that language with profound insight. Furthermore, the version that most Latin Christians read presented the Qur'an in a kind of elevated, sophisticated Latin normally reserved only for prestigious Christian and classical texts, so Europeans encountered this book that they were told was heretical in a format that made it sound authoritative. The Qur'an was also read by the many Christians who lived in Muslim lands in the Middle Ages and came to influence their own Arabic translations of the Bible, and their own Christian theological writings. Finally, late in the Middle Ages the Qur'an could be found in beautiful, expensive, illuminated manuscripts made for wealthy Christian book collectors who viewed it as an interesting exotic work that they could show off to their cultured friends. Burman's lecture discusses all the ways in which medieval Christians related to Islam's holy book.
Wednesday, April 13, 5:15 p.m.
Thomas Glick, "What the New Mexico Acequias Owe to the Arabs"
Why use an Arabism to denote an irrigation canal when common words of Latin or Old English derivation such as canal or ditch are used elsewhere in the Southwest and West? Clearly, the first reason is that settlers in colonial times came from those areas of Spain where the term acequia was used (by Christians) in preference to Latinate alternatives, and also because of positive cultural associations. The settlers came from places where their ancestors had occupied irrigated fields won from the Arabs, with the water distribution arrangements still in force. In such a context, irrigation was, almost by definition, an Arab practice. Even more importantly, acequia in Spanish usage connoted a community of irrigators while canal and ditch did not. Therefore the settlers brought with them the mental image of how water allocation took place and this image endowed the acequia with the communitarian ideal it currently has.
Wednesday, April 13, 7:15 p.m.
Reuven Firestone, "Images of Muhammad in Medieval Jewish and Christian Literatures: The Problematic of a ‘New' Prophet"
The term "Islamophobia" was coined sometime in the 1980s, but fear and apprehension regarding Islam has been a feature of Western civilization since the seventh century, when Islam began its dramatic spread following the death of Muhammad. In Islamic view, Muhammad was the most recent in a long line of inspired prophets stretching back to Old Testament times and included Jesus. Christians and Jews, however, found themselves unwilling to accept Muhammad as the culmination of this prophetic lineage. Firestone's presentation contextualizes the problematic of "post-canonical" prophets in the academic study of religion and will then proceed to examine a varied array of texts in order to show how Christian and Jewish writers characterized Muhammad during the medieval period.
Thursday, April 14, 5:15 p.m.
Concert by the UNM Early Music Ensemble directed by Colleen Sheinberg
Thursday, April 14, 7:15 p.m.
Cynthia Robinson, "The Lady on the Alhambra Ceiling: Sacred and Profane Love across Cultures"
Alhambra Palace in Granada is one of the world's greatest architectural masterpieces and reflects the many influences upon Islamic rule in medieval Spain. The "Christian" or "European"-style images painted in leather on the ceilings of the Hall of Justice in the Alhambra's Palace of the Lions have aroused the curiosity of scholars for more than a century. Although previous scholarship has viewed the images through prisms that assume stable and unchanging connections between style, ethnicity and religious identity, Robinson's lecture endeavors to show that the images respond to a series of fluid narratives that received input from al-Andalus, Abbasid Baghdad, and a variety of Romance-speaking contexts throughout the Mediterranean while also reflecting the court (and courtly) culture specific to the Nasrid rule of Granada.
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