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Gibson, Nathan P. ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0786-8075 (December 2022): Knowledge Collaboration among Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Muslims in the Abbasid Near East. Introduction. In: Medieval Worlds: Comparative & Interdisciplinary Studies, Vol. 17: pp. 59-72 [PDF, 219kB]


This thematic section unearths several ways professionals from a variety of religious communities in the Near East collaborated with one another during the medieval period. Modern scholars of intellectual history have often attempted to trace connections in medieval texts across the religious spectrum, but it has been difficult to pin down the interpersonal circumstances behind these and other interactions. This is at least in part because scientific, philosophical, and theological treatises rarely refer to these personal relationships explicitly, leaving researchers to turn to other kinds of works for such details: biographies, chronicles, hagiographies, and documentary sources. But it then remains to come to terms with the historiographical perspectives of the authors of these works. For example, the authors of Arabic biographical dictionaries (ṭabaqāt literature) have provided some of the richest sources for person-to-person exchange in Near Eastern intellectual history, but they filter and taxonomize their subjects to focus on individuals, overwhelmingly men, who can be seen as formative for particular classes or categories (ṭabaqāt) of society. Disciplinary segmentation has made it especially difficult to answer questions such as how much »neutral« space there was in interreligious knowledge exchange in the Near East, or whether fields such as medicine became »Islamicized« through the exclusion of non-Muslims in the teaching, study, or practice of the field. The authors of the research articles here (contributors to a virtual forum hosted by the BMBF-funded »Communities of Knowledge« project) take various approaches to these problems of explicating silent sources, interpreting historiographical constructions, and bridging disciplinary segmentation. Some put particular texts under the microscope, pointing out new evidence of specific interactions on the basis of close readings or the examination of texts in a palimpsested manuscript. Some zoom out slightly on these interactions by making fresh comparisons between sources in differing genres or languages. All focus on the interreligious dimensions of exchange and, wherever possible, on the interpersonal engagements that brought these about. Reports from two research projects complement these by taking macro-level approaches that involve multiple languages, several genres, and broad regions. Overall, this thematic collection highlights the interpersonal and collaborative aspects of work by Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Muslims during the Abbasid caliphate (132-656 AH/750-1258 CE) with the aim of stimulating new research approaches that overcome previous genre limitations and disciplinary boundaries.

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