Constant J. Mews

title.none: Lejbowicz, ed., Les relations culturelles (Constant J. Mews)

identifier.other: baj9928.0709.027 07.09.27

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Constant J. Mews, Monash University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Lejbowicz, Max, ed. Les relations culturelles entre cretiens et musulmans au moyen age. Recontres Medievales Europeennes volume 5. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2005. Pp. 166. ISBN: 34.00 2-503-51803-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.09.27

Lejbowicz, Max, ed. Les relations culturelles entre cretiens et musulmans au moyen age. Recontres Medievales Europeennes volume 5. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2005. Pp. 166. ISBN: 34.00 2-503-51803-6.

Reviewed by:

Constant J. Mews
Monash University

This is a relatively slim book that broaches a vast subject of great contemporary interest, the interaction between Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages. There are some noteworthy individual presentations in this volume, although often they tend to raise questions in the form of an elegant lecture rather than present detailed research. The conclusion one must inevitably draw is that with relatively few French scholars have applied themselves in depth to the subject under debate. Thus Remi Brague offers an opening discussion of whether or not there was a dialogue between Islam and Christianity in the Middle Ages has the character of a swift overview, offering the perhaps not surprising to some conclusion that such dialogue was more of a dream than a reality in the medieval period.

The paper by Emilio Platti, "Bagdad-Beauvais-Bruges," offers more precision in that it focuses on the Latin transmission of the Risala of al-Kindi, from ninth-century Baghdad, as mediated by Vincent of Beauvais in his Speculum historiale and its Flemish translation in the late thirteenth century by Jacob von Maerlant. By remaining focused on a particular case of how a polemical dialogue between a Muslim and an Arab Christian was transmitted into Latin and then into Flemish, Platti shows how Islam would be presented to a Christian audience in utterly hostile tones, any attempt at rational discussion by al-Kindi being transformed into negative polemic. The study by Jean Jolivet of Latin translations of Arabic texts has the merit of casting a wider net, while providing confident awareness of an evolving Latin philosophical tradition, initially through Abelard, then through writings of al-Kindi and Alfarabi.

The paper by Max Lejbowicz, "Developpement autochtone assume et acculturation dissimulee," is much more solid and reflective, in exploring the tension between the self-confident desire of Latin Christendom to develop its own culture and the reality that Latin culture was profoundly shaped by Arab culture, even if it did not wish to acknowledge its debt to a culture much richer both intellectually and economically in the twelfth century. In rhetorically tuned prose, Lejbowicz continues Jolivet's suggestion that exposure to Arab thinkers unlocked philosophical creativity, but reflects on how the Latin West refused to acknowledged that debt. He exposes the paradox of how some of the finest minds of the Latin West--like that of Peter the Venerable--were fascinated by the experience of Islam, yet insisted on reducing that experience to familiar categories. Lejbowicz concludes his survey with reflection on the narrow suspicion voiced by Stephen Tempier of ideas stimulated by Latin scholars reading Islamic philosophers.

The only contribution that actually deals with medieval Islamic culture is that of Roger Arnaldez, who reflects on notions of love in Arab poetry and Islamic mysticism. Those two genres were as closely connected within the Islamic world as in Latin Christendom. His lecture is suggestive without offering any major new research. The volume also includes two papers on contemporary Islam, by Khattar Abou Diab and Pascal Le Pautremat, of interest, but not related in substance to the theme of the volume. Exchanges following each paper are recorded from the conference, many of them initiated by Alain Besancon. They suggest vague awareness that this is an important subject, but yet also skirt around the troubling questions of how limited were the actual interactions between Christians and Muslims in the medieval period. This is a topic that demands further attention.