Emory Report

January 26, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 18

Journal illustrates medieval
religious melting pot

The intersections and interactions of Jewish, Christian and Muslim culture in the period from the fourth to the 15th centuries are the focus of a relatively new international journal founded and edited by Gordon Newby, professor and chair of Middle Eastern Studies.

Medieval Encounters: A Journal of Jewish, Christian and Muslim Culture and Dialogue is intended as a cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary forum for discussion among scholars and students Newby said.

Noting the field of medieval studies is, in itself, a multidisciplinary area, "it's natural for medievalists to talk across disciplinary boundaries, but it's less common for them to talk also across the wide range of cultures," Newby said. This is partly because there are not a lot of people who are trained in all of the languages needed for this kind of work, he explained.

The three-year-old journal covers a wide range of subjects including history, languages, literature, medicine, music, philosophy, religion, science and art. Articles are contributed by scholars from Europe, the United States and the Middle East.

Past topics have included an Islamic physician's recognition of the placebo effect; an institution of safe conduct passes for Muslims, Christians and Jews traveling in medieval Arago-Catalonia; churches and mosques of old Cairo; spying during the Islamic Middle Ages; Jerusalem's Ethiopian community in 1517; and Jews of the Middle Ages chronicled by medieval English writer Hugh of St. Victor.

"My own scholarly work is cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary, and I was looking for an outlet for this kind of scholarship that wasn't necessarily bound by any one discipline or any one cultural perspective," Newby said in explaining why he founded the journal. "Most journals are tied either to disciplines or to departments, institutes or other entities that limit the publication's scope."

Another underlying reason for starting the journal was "a kind of hope that, through better understanding of how the various cultures have interacted over time, we will be able to somehow get out of our present-minded views that these cultures, religions and civilizations are inevitably in conflict."

"While there have been some problems, there have been several long periods of time-particularly in this period of the Middle Ages-when the cultures have gotten along really quite well," noted Newby, whose own research specialty is Jewish-Muslim relations in the early medieval period.

One of the things all these journal articles show is that Judaism, Christianity and Islam each developed their identities, modes of worship and cultural patterns in the context of interaction with the other religions, Newby said. "The richness that we see in each culture is due, in part, to the contributions that are made by the presence of other cultures."

For example, much of the liturgy normally associated with modern rabbinic Judaism was written in the Middle Ages in the Islamic period, when Jews lived under Islamic rule. "That's when that liturgy develops, and that's when Hebrew grammar develops," he explained.

Medieval Encounters is published three times a year in English and is distributed internationally by Netherlands publisher E.J. Brill.

-Linda Klein

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