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Mediterranean Courts as Centers of Interfaith Encounters in the Middle Ages

Arguably, since ancient times the Mediterranean is an area in which different religions have made mutual contact with unprecedented intensity. For many centuries, the meeting of Judaism, Christianity and Islam has converted the Mediterranean into a core area for the histories and cultures of Europe and the near East alike. Like any other border zone, this inner sea not only separated cultures, but also figured as a point of contact, a zone of transmission for peoples, wares, knowledge and cults. These processes concentrated at the Mediterranean courts. Here, for the number of reasons, intellectual debate with other religions took place with particular intensity. Diplomatic contacts generated knowledge of unfamiliar habits and fostered the adaptation of communicative procedures. Economic interaction was of prime importance for the prosperity of the respective realms and was only possible due to mutual acceptance of common norms. Finally, knowledge of the Other was a precondition for the religious orientation of political entities on the interfaith frontier, a frontier marked by shifting relations between minorities and majorities. Processes of political and military expansion in particular (Islamic expansion, European expansion) heightened the importance of the Mediterranean courts. Consequently, it is not surprising that inter-religious knowledge focussed on the Mediterranean courts. In communicative centers such as Constantinople, Acre, Cairo, Tunis, Granada, Barcelona, Toledo or Palermo, information was gathered, representatives of different sovereigns and creeds met, and interpreters, diplomats and scholars acted as cultural brokers. It is noticeable that these processes of adaptation, inclusion and exclusion between different religious clusters occurred on different levels and in varying communicative forms. Mediterranean courts not only hosted interfaith disputations on a high theological level, but also were the place where juridical conditions for a pragmatic dealing with religious minorities were formulated. The project aims at investigating these varying forms of inter-religious communication at the Mediterranean courts.

 

Mediterranean courts and their manifold forms of communication are perfectly suited to be studied on the comparative basis with Far-Eastern political and cultural centers. The courts' importance is heightened by the fact that the spectrum of media employed there was particularly wide. It ranged from texts - literature, treaties, normative texts etc. - over courtly iconography to clothing and food. All of these sources can further our knowledge of processes of adaptation and inclusion. Finally, the court has represented a relevant social sphere of interaction right up to recent times, a sphere that has, however, not been taken into consideration adequately by the researchers of religious history and interfaith encounters. One of the project's aims is to further methods and questions recently employed by research on Central European residences. This will be brought about by investigating interaction between Christian and Islamic courts in the Mediterranean area, particular attention will thereby be paid to transcultural phenomena of inter-religious contact between Christians and Muslims. Inter-religious communication - phenomena such as disputations and dialogue between cult and everyday life - will receive due treatment. The methodology put into practice and the questions formulated in recent research on medieval residences will thus be adapted to other cultural areas. Finally, by including other disciplines participating in the International Research Consortium "Dynamics in the history of religions", common areas of investigation shared by other participants in the college will be discerned and tertia comparationis between European and Asian cultures might be defined.

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