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Beyond Religious Borders

The medieval Islamic world comprised a wide variety of religions. While individuals and communities in this world identified themselves with only one faith, boundaries between these groups were vague and in some cases nonexistent. Rather than simply borrowing or lending customs, goods, and notions to one another, the peoples of the Mediterranean region interacted within a common culture. Beyond Religious Borders: Interaction and Intellectual Exchange in the Medieval Islamic World, edited by David M. Freidenreich and Miriam Goldstein,  presents sophisticated and often revolutionary studies of the ways Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers drew ideas and inspiration from outside the bounds of their own religious communities.

Each essay in this collection covers a key aspect of interreligious relationships in Mediterranean lands during the first six centuries of Islam. These studies focus on the cultural context of exchange, the impact of exchange, and the factors motivating exchange between adherents of different religions. Essays address the influence of the shared Arabic language on the transfer of knowledge, reconsider the restrictions imposed by Muslim rulers on Christian and Jewish subjects, and demonstrate the need to consider both Jewish and Muslim works in the study of Andalusian philosophy. Case studies on the impact of exchange examine specific literary, religious, and philosophical concepts that crossed religious borders. In each case, elements native to one religious group and originally foreign to another became fully at home in both. The volume concludes by considering why certain ideas crossed religious lines while others did not, and how specific figures involved in such processes understood their own roles in the transfer of ideas.

This volume on various aspects of Judeo-Arabic civilization in its most productive age is a book for our time. In viewing Jewish culture as a constituent part of a large “Islamicate” society, the contributors to this collection share a view of the way cultures interact that is far more sophisticated than the borrower-lender model that obtained a generation ago. The scholarship is of the highest level. Any new synthesis of the subject that is to emerge from the work of the present generation of scholars will depend on studies such as those here assembled. —Raymond P. Scheindlin, Jewish Theological Seminary

Related Articles

“Fusion Cooking in an Islamic Milieu: Jewish and Christian Jurists on Food Associated with Foreigners,” in Beyond Religious Borders, ed. David M. Freidenreich and Miriam Goldstein (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 144–60 [link to pdf]

“Muslim–Jewish Dialogue,” Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World, ed. John Esposito (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009)  [link to pdf]

“The Use of Islamic Sources in Saadiah Gaon’s Tafsīr of the Torah,” Jewish Quarterly Review 93 (2003): 353–95 [link to pdf]