Ethno-Religious Diversity and Cultural Innovation in the Medieval Mediterranean

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A Workshop Session
held on
March 21-24, 2012
at the
13th Mediterranean Research Meeting
of the
Robert Schuman Centre
European University Institute
Montecatini, Italy

Brian A. Catlos (Religious Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder/History, University of California Santa Cruz)
Sharon Kinoshita (Literature, University of California Santa Cruz)

With the support of:
The Mediterranean Seminar/ UC MRP

Deadline: 15 July 2011



The aim of this workshop is to examine the nature of cultural development and socio-economic relations vis-à-vis ethno-religious diversity in the period roughly from 600–1500CE. In doing so we hope not only to address various aspects of medieval cultural transmission and innovation, but to bring into relief the processes of acculturation and exchange, manifested within both antagonistic and collaborative contexts. This will not only help to illuminate the role of ethno-religious diversity and cultural creation in the Medieval Mediterranean, but also their role in the emergence of Modernity and their place in the modern world.

At this intensive four-day event, 12 participants and the Directors will collaborate to workshop pre-submitted article-length papers in a collegial, inter-disciplinary atmosphere.

Proposals from all relevant disciplines, including (but not limited to) history (social, economic, institutional, intellectual….), literary studies, art history, ethno-musicology are welcome. Papers dealing with under-studied regions and aspects of Mediterranean history, and those with a strong theoretical and/or comparative focus are also particularly welcome. The working language of the program is English, and scholars from all countries may apply. We particularly welcome participants from countries and regions normally under-represented at these events.

Limited financial assistance is available through the Robert Schuman Centre, and University of California faculty and graduate students may apply for additional support through the Mediterranean Seminar/UCMRP Travel Stipend Program. Participants may bring a guest (at their own expense).

For general and logistical information and for deadlines, please refer to the 13th Mediterranean Research Meeting website (refer to workshop #17). Inquiries regarding topics and submissions or the Travel Stipend Program should be referred to the Directors (

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Application Information:

To apply, go to to the 13th Mediterranean Research Meeting website (refer to workshop #17).

Relevant documents:

Call for papers
General Programme
Call for Participants

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Issues relating to religious identity, diversity and culture are frequently in the press today, as nations of a purportedly culturally homogenous character come to grips both with their own diversity and the restructuring of relationships in our post-colonial, non-polar world. This has, on the one hand, provoked the reactionary retrenchment of ideals of cultural distinctiveness and separation, while on the other enabling a critical reappraisal of the historiographical traditions that emerged in the scholarly environment of northern European nation states. These traditions engendered a teleology of social and cultural development that projected the nation-state paradigm anachronistically onto the Pre-Modern Era, particularly the Middle Ages – a period seen as the age of genesis of northwestern European nationalities that have been credited as the protagonists in a process of historical Modernity. In fact, the locus of many of the defining processes in the history of the Medieval and Early Modern West was the Mediterranean – a fragmented region of principalities and polities that identified formally with specific confessional orientations, but that were in fact ethno-religiously diverse internally, and profoundly integrated politically, culturally and institutionally with societies of affiliated with “rival” religions.

The aim of this workshop is to examine the nature of cultural development and socio-economic relations vis-à-vis ethno-religious diversity in the period roughly from 600–1500CE. In doing so we hope not only to address various aspects of medieval cultural transmission and innovation, but to bring into relief the processes of acculturation and exchange, manifested within both antagonistic and collaborative contexts. This will not only help to illuminate the role of ethno-religious diversity and cultural creation in the Medieval Mediterranean, but also their role in the emergence of Modernity and their place in the modern world.

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The Medieval Mediterranean is well-known as a zone of commerce, exchange and cultural transmission as well as an arena of “civilizational” competition and conflict. It was at once an area of ethno-religious pluralism and convivencia, and a region of chauvinistic exclusion and differentiation. It was here, that Western Christendom discovered and yearned for the sophistication and wealth of the Judaeo-Islamic world, and that Latin Christianity, Byzantine Christianity and Islam were brought into conflicts articulated in the language of Crusade and jihad. However, as important its character as a zone of contact between distinct, religiously-defined societies may have been, it was precisely the ephemeral and imprecise quality of the boundaries that separated these societies that drove acculturation and innovation.

The Mediterranean was not clearly divided into large and coherent political units that corresponded to these major religious identities. It was a fragmented region of principalities and polities that identified formally with specific confessional orientations, but that were in fact ethno-religiously diverse internally, and profoundly integrated politically, culturally and institutionally with societies of affiliated with “rival” religions. This panorama corresponds with the Mediterranean as described in Horden and Purcell’s watershed study, The Corrupting Sea, which characterizes the region as one of diverse and fragmented micro-geographies, interrelated and interdependent economically as a consequence of their proximity and the particular topography of the region. These were regions whose vulnerability and marginality was mitigated by the potential for specialization and exchange offered by their proximity. Survival and prosperity were dependent on each micro-regions capacity to participate in the complex economy of the region as a whole.

Hence, the polities and the institutions and corporations that developed within and around the Mediterranean were driven at least as much by the demands of Realpolitik as larger ideological concerns, and the horizon of the short- to mid-term gain, tended to encourage competition within larger religious affiliations and collaboration across confessional lines. Crucially, in this complex environment expanding political elites tended not to transform or displace conquered peoples but merely to overlaid the societies that they came to dominate. These were movements tended to initiate cultural transformations, but these came about gradually. The net effect was that the Mediterranean became a zone of ethno-religious interpenetration, characterized by a high degree of linguistic, ethnic, cultural and religious variety within its constituent principalities (and not merely within the region as a whole). Thus, communication and collaboration among distinct groups, often relating in a minority-majority or minority-minority context, became a pre-requisite for economic viability and political survival. This was facilitated by the common cultural foundations of the various groups, including Abrahamic religion, Roman-influenced institutions, and Perso-Hellenic social and philosophical orientations. Hence the Mediterranean became a zone of mutual intelligibility, wherein polyvalent identities were common and cultural synthesis and hybridity resulted naturally as a consequence of socio-economic integration. It was these circumstances that endowed the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages with the capacity to so dramatically transform the European, African and Middle Eastern societies that bordered on it.

The aim of this workshop is to examine the nature of Medieval Mediterranean cultural development and social relations vis-à-vis ethno-religious diversity in the period roughly from 600–1500CE, as manifested both through minority-majority interactions and “international relations” within and between Latin, Byzantine and Islamic lands. In doing so we hope not only to address various aspects of cultural transmission and innovation as they related to practices of pre-Modern diversity, but to bringing into relief the constant processes of acculturation and exchange, which were manifested within both antagonistic and collaborative contexts, during times of peaceful interaction and social stability, and in times of warfare, competition and upheaval. Finally, we want to assess these processes in view of the Mediterranean paradigm described by Horden and Purcell in The Corrupting Sea. Together, this will not only help to illuminate the role of ethno-religious diversity and cultural creation in the Medieval Mediterranean, but also their role in the emergence of Modernity and their place in the modern world.

In the twenty-first century, which has seen massive migration and subsequently increased interreligious mixing, as well as a significant resurgence of religious identity (in the Mediterranean as elsewhere in the world), issues relating to the history of interfaith relations and the nature of culture have taken on particular interest and urgency. The study of the historical bases of Mediterranean cultural development, as it emerged from the relationships which enabled it and manifested itself in the innovation and exchange of objects, texts, techniques and idea, will provide and important and timely contribution to scholarship and to societal debate on these issues.

Historians of art, language and ideas have long been forced to confront the reality of cultural exchange and interpenetration in the Pre-Modern Mediterranean, although this was seen traditionally with in the framework of the emergence of large-scale cultural systems which came to exert hegemony over all or parts of the Mediterranean (e.g.: Hellenistic societies, Judiasm, Persia, Rome, Islam, and Greek and Latin Christianities). These systems tended to be regarded as internally homogenous and coming into contact as though they were individual actors. Cultural hybridization was seen as something that took place at the “margins” of both imperial entities and the historical narrative, and exchange was seen as primarily in terms of the transmission of discrete and well-defined cultural bundles (e.g.: Greek philosophy) which were passed on from one society to another as if unaffected by the processes of translation, re-imagination and reorientation. Work on the social and economic history, however, revealed a Medieval Mediterranean which was characterized by an intensity and continued of contact and movement that rendered this traditional model clearly inadequate. Not only boundaries, but identities – whether communal, institutional or individual – came to be seen increasingly as fluid, contextual and multiple.

Therefore, recent work has gone beyond the paradigm of mere transmission to study the both the reciprocal influence of artists, artisans and intellectuals on each other, the multiple meanings and registers built into works of art and literature, and the often deliberate cultivation of ambiguities and double entendres. Hence for example, Cynthia Robinson’s work on Islamicate and Judaic art, architecture and landscape gardening in Christian and Islamic Spain, Maria Rosa Menocal’s investigation of the Arabic origins of troubadour verse, Oleg Grabar’s studies of the synthetic nature of Islamic art, Harvey Hames’s examination of the intellectual triangles of Sufism, Christian mysticism and Kabbalism, William Tronzo’s studies of the hybrid Norman-Byzantine-Islamic stylings of Norman Sicilian art and architecture, Linda Jones’ work on the reciprocal influence of Christian and Muslim preachers, Kogman-Appel’s studies of Christian and Islamic influence on illuminated haggadot, Charles Burnett’s and Thomas Burman’s work on translation of (respectively) scientific and religious works, Thomas Glick’s studies of institutional and technological dissemination in the Christian and Islamic world, and Peter Cowe’s on-going investigation on the reception, reinterpretation and dissemination of artistic, literary and institutional literature in Armenian Cilicia, to name but a few. Through these and many other scholars’ work, it has become clear not only that the Mediterranean was far more complex than previously assumed in terms of religious and ethnic diversity and differentiation (particularly within the larger confessional groupings), but that networks of collaboration and mutual influence were far more intense and active than previously assumed. Communication and transmission was not driven merely, or primarily by the deliberate agency of kings and powerful clergy as a dimension of their political programs as had been previously assumed, but also organically and informally, across the social spectrum, among diverse individuals and collectives in response to the common problems, questions and concerns which arose among peoples who inhabited the same environment and who shared the same broad religio-cultural orientation. In the Medieval Mediterranean, therefore, hybridization was neither exceptional nor marginal, it was what characterized normal discourse.

Thus, there is a rich bibliography in the field, but there is a need for comparative approaches across ethno-religious and cultural lines and across traditional academic disciplines. Most of all, these processes of acculturation needed to be set within a coherent interpretive and framework and a coherent theoretical model.

The study of the history of the development of medieval culture and its relation to religious identity poses questions that echo throughout later periods of history, down to the twenty-first century. Modern prejudices and political agendas can be seen at work in a number of recent books on the subject, and politically-sensitive notions such as national and European identity are often bound up in origin myths that emphasize an originality and uniqueness that is simply incompatible with the reality of cultural development. The established narrative of the emergence of Modern culture, for example, portrays “the West” as the receptor of ancient “Greek” intellectual traditions that had been “preserved” by “the Arabs,” while avoiding any contamination by Islam. In the last twenty years or so, scholars have investigated the collaborative and cumulative process by which Western culture emerged, evoking a nostalgic age of suspiciously modern- and secular-looking medieval scholars who regardless of their identities as Christians, Muslims and Jews, lived in a state of innocent convivencia as they laboured to translate Islamic and Jewish texts and ideas to the Latin West. Finally, reactionary authors such as Sylvain Gouguenheim have denied any meaningful role to non-Christian societies in the transmission or development of this culture, reaffirming the notion of Europe’s singularity and distinctiveness.

None of these perspectives is satisfactory, for none of them discard the fundamental notion of a teleological progress towards a singular Anglo-European modernity, which privileges those cultural developments which can be perceived of as direct antecedents and trivializes other outcomes as evolutionary dead-ends. Moreover, the notion of cultural development as being a process of simple unilateral transmission of superior models is clearly inadequate. In the medieval Mediterranean cultural exchange was consistently and enduringly poly-valent and multi-lateral. Religio-ethnic identity was not a barrier to cultural formation and exchange, it provided a framework for the expression and development of forms and ideas – forms and ideas that resonated across Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities by virtue of their common cultural origins and their on-going political, economic and social interdependence and engagement, and that had as their sources the far-flung hinterlands of each of these civilizational systems – Northern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. The medieval Mediterranean provided a zone of socio-economic inter-penetration and cultural and linguistic mutual intelligibility that enabled this process of synthesis and exchange. This subject is thus of more than academic interest, it speaks to the definition of European culture, Islamic culture and Jewish culture, both in terms of their origins, their interdependence and the degree to which they can be considered generically distinct. These are key issues if we are to consider both the past and the future of Modern culture and the nature of its development.

The seminar is planned in conjunction with the University of California Mediterranean Studies Multi-Campus Research Project (2010–2015) and the Mediterranean Seminar ( This collaborative effort will bring together scholars from the Mediterranean region, Europe and North America. Participants will be chosen on the criteria of the quality of their work, of their openness to interdisciplinary and interreligious comparative work, and in order to reflect a diversity of disciplines, religious traditions, and language backgrounds. Catlos and Kinoshita, themselves trained in different scholarly approaches (historical and literary) have a proven track record of intellectual collaboration and mentoring interdisciplinary groups.

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Given the range of methodological, geographical, and conceptual frameworks that participants will bring with them to this workshop, we envision the format to differ significantly from that of a standard conference. Rather than oral presentations about specific empirical case studies, invited participants will be asked to pre-circulate their papers. Papers may range in format and genre from empirical case studies to methodological and conceptual reflections. We would also encourage participants, when appropriate, to provide transcripts and translations of primary texts for further discussion at the workshop. Sessions will include:

1) Brief introductions by 3–4 paper authors to recapitulate their main arguments and to situate their contributions in a broader historiographical and/or theoretical context;

2) Comments on the session’s papers by a designated commentator(s);

3) Ample time for group discussion by all workshop participants; and

4) A concluding discussion which will frame the projects in the light of the environmental-economic model of the Mediterranean proposed by Horden and Purcell and expanded on by Catlos and Kinoshita

This format aims to foster an open dialogue about the intersections between the different papers, and to ensure conceptual continuity between the different sessions. In this manner, we intend to go beyond the standard conference practice of delivering papers that may or may not relate to one another. Instead, participants will be able to engage each other’s materials, bring insights from their own field of expertise to a broader methodological and conceptual discussion, and begin to draw out connections between what are often seen as disparate fields of knowledge.

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The goal of this workshop is three-fold: to produce a selection of original, high-quality pieces of scholarly literature, to foster long-term collaboration among the work shop participants and organizers, and to publish a short volume of collected essays based on contributions by the workshop participants and organizers. The first goal will be accomplished through our strategy for the workshop: careful selection of participants, pre-circulation of papers, vigorous discussion, and post-workshop collaboration. Longer term collaboration will be facilitated through the major Mediterranean Studies projects directed by the organizers (see below); there will be opportunities for follow-up visits, and a follow-up conference either in the US and/or France (or follow up panels at major conferences in those locations). In order to ensure the best possible selection of candidates, the organizers plan to offer travel bursaries to candidates who may be prevented from participating due to lack of funding. Workshop participants will be encouraged to publish the finished versions of their projects as articles via the Mediterranean Seminar’s series of volumes of collected essays (currently under negotiation with the Cursor Mundi series published by Brepols in conjunction with the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of California Los Angeles).

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Brian A. Catlos & Sharon Kinoshita are Co-Directors of the University of California Mediterranean Studies Multi-Campus Research Project, and the University of California Santa Cruz Center for Mediterranean Studies. Through the Mediterranean Seminar (, an interdisciplinary forum for research and pedagogy in pre-Modern Mediterranean Studies which they co-direct, they organize an ongoing program of collaborative research projects, workshops and conferences, bringing together both established and new scholars from a range of disciplines. The University of California Multi-Campus Research Project in Mediterranean Studies is a 5-year funded program that includes workshops and conferences with the aim of furthering new research centered on the historical Mediterranean. Their experience organizing collaborative research projects includes two NEH Summer Institutes and a 14-week Residential Research Project at the UC Humanities Research Institute.

Brian A. Catlos is Associate Professor Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, with cross-appointments in History, Humanities and Jewish Studies and an Associate Professor of History at the University of California Santa Cruz; he is an external faculty member at the Università di Messina and a project member at the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (Barcelona). From 2007–2010 he was President of the American Academy of Research Historians of Medieval Spain, and he is a Book Review Editor for Speculum.

His work centers on the social, economic and institutional aspects of Muslim-Christian-Jewish interaction in the Latin Christian and Islamic worlds from ca. 1000–1600CE. His monograph, The Victors and the Vanquished, won two major awards and he has written numerous articles and book chapters. Presently his work includes a comparative study of Muslim minorities in the Latin Christendom, and Paradoxes of Plurality, which theorizes ethno-religious interaction in the Medieval Mediterranean.

Sharon Kinoshita is Professor of World Literature at the University of California Santa Cruz and Senior Research Fellow (Spring 2011) at the University of Pittsburgh Humanities Center. She earned her Ph. D. in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. She specializes in Old French and Mediterranean literatures, tracing the literary representation of cultural contact and material and cultural transmission across the medieval Mediterranean. She is the author of Medieval Boundaries: Rethinking Difference in Old French Literature (2006) and numerous articles on medieval French, as well as “Medieval Mediterranean Literature,” PMLA (2009) and other essays linking Mediterranean Studies and Medieval Literary Studies, and is the co-editor, with Peregrine Horden, of the Blackwell Companion to Mediterranean Studies (in preparation).

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Potential Participants:

We will be looking for participants doing innovative work in disciplines ranging from social, economic and intellectual history, to literary studies, law, and historical sociology and anthropology. Preference will be given to scholars whose work bridges more than one linguistic/confessional tradition and which engages more than one region of the Mediterranean, reflecting our aim to study cultural-confessional relations as a Mediterranean phenomenon. We will disseminate our call for Participants through the Mediterranean Seminar network of over 300 affiliates, via scholarly institutions of the Mediterranean, as well as via standard academic media (list-servers, etc.). Our aim will be to bring together a range of scholars from different backgrounds, areas of expertise and rank (i.e.: both junior and senior scholars).

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Orientative Bibliography:

Agius, Dionisius A., and Richard Hitchcock. The Arab Influence in Medieval Europe. 1st ed. Folia Scholastica Mediterranea. Reading England: Ithaca Press, 1994.

Bierman, Irene A. The Experience of Islamic Art on the Margins of Islam. 1st ed ed. Reading, UK: Ithaca, 2005.

Brummett, Palmira. “Vision of the Mediterranean: A Classification.” Jounral of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 37 (2007): 9-55.

Burman, Thomas et al, eds. Scripture and pluralism: reading the Bible in the religiously plural worlds of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Leiden: Brill, 2005.

Burnett, Charles. “The Transmission of Arabic Astronomy Via Antioch and Pisa in the Second Quarter of the Twelfth Century.” In The Enterprise of Science in Islam: New Perspectives, edited by J. P. Hogendijk, and A. I. Sabra, 23-51. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.

Catlos, Brian. The Victors and the Vanquished. Christians and Muslims of Aragon and Catalonia , ca. 1050–1300, Cambridge UP, 2004.

Chazan, Robert. The Jews of Medieval Western Christendom, 1000-1500. Cambridge UP, 2006.

Carpenter, Dwayne. Alfonso X and the Jews: An Edition and Commentary on Siete Partidas 7.24 "De los judíos" University of California Publications in Modern Philology 115 (1986).

Freidenreich, David. “Sharing Meals with Non-Christians in Canon Law Commentaries, Circa 1160-1260: A Case Study in Legal Development” Medieval Encounters 14 (2008), 41-77.

Friedman, Yohannan. Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim Tradition. Cambridge UP, 2003.

Glick, Thomas F. From Muslim Fortress to Christian Castle. Social and Cultural Change in Medieval Spain. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.

Grabar, Oleg. The Mediation of Ornament. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Hames, Harvey J. The Art of Conversion : Christianity and Kabbalah in the Thirteenth Century. The Medieval Mediterranean V. 26. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2000.

Hoffman, Eva. “Pathways of Portability: Islamic and Christian Interchange From the Tenth to the Twelfth Century.” In Late Antique and Medieval Art of the Mediterranean World, edited by Eva Hoffman, 317– 347. Blackwell, 2007.

Horden, Peregrine, and Nicholas Purcell. The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2000.

Jordan, William. The French Monarchy and the Jews from Philip Augustus to the Last Capetians. Philadelphia: Penn, 1989.

Kinoshita, Sharon. “Medieval Mediterranean Literature.” Publications of the Modern Language Association 124 (2009): 600-8.

–––––, and Jacobs, Jason. “Ports of Call: Boccaccio’s Alatiel in the Medieval Mediterranean.” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 37, no. 1 (2007): 163–195.

Kogman-Appel, Katrin. Illuminated Haggadot From Medieval Spain : Biblical Imagery and the Passover Holiday. University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006.

Marín, Manuela. Individuo y sociedad en al-Andalus. Madrid: MAPFRE, 1992.

Metcalfe, Alex. Muslims and Christians in Norman Sicily: Arabic speakers and the end of Islam. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003.

Nef, Annliese. « Pluralisme religieux et Etat monarchique dans la Sicile des XIIe-XIIIe siècle », in H. Bresc, ed., Politique et religion en Méditerranée—Moyen Âge et époque contemporaine (Paris : Bouchene, 2008), 237-255.

Nirenberg, David. Communities of violence: persecution of minorities in the Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996.

Powell, James éd. Muslims under Latin Rule, 1100-1300. Princeton : Princeton UP, 1990.

Powers, David. Law, society, and culture in the Maghrib, 1300-1500. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

Robinson, Cynthia. “Trees of Love, Trees of Knowledge: Toward the Definition of a Cross-Confessional Current in Late Medieval Iberian Spirituality.” Mediterranean Encounters 12 (2006): 388-435.

Rotman, Youval. Les esclaves et l'esclavage : de la Méditerranée antique à la Méditerranée médiévale, VIe-XIe siècles. Paris: les Belles Lettres, 2004.

Stow, Kenneth. Popes, church, and Jews in the Middle Ages: confrontation and response. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

Tabak, Faruk. The Waning of the Mediterranean, 1550-1870 : A Geohistorical Approach. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Tolan, John. Saracens: Islam in the Medieval Europen Imagination. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Tronzo, William. The Cultures of His Kingdom: Roger II and the Cappella Palatina in Palermo. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Wansbrough, John E. Lingua Franca in the Mediterranean. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996.