The Medieval Review 16.02.04

Boissellier, Stéphane, and John Tolan, eds. La cohabitation religieuse dans les villes Européennes, Xe - XVe siècles / Religious cohabitation in European towns (10th-15th centuries). Religion and Law in Medieval Christian and Muslim Societies, 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2014. pp. 326. ISBN: 972-2-503-55252-1 (paperback).

Reviewed by:

Tom Barton
University of San Diego

This handsome volume features fifteen essays that were originally presented at a conference held in Provence in May 2012. The gathering was one of a series of workshops, conferences, and seminars dedicated to exploring the legal underpinnings of European religious pluralism that were held in cities throughout Europe and convoked by the recently concluded, five-year RELMIN research project headed by John Tolan (Nantes). La cohabitation religieuse is the third essay collection generated by RELMIN and published via its partnership with Brepols. As with the other work produced by this collaboration, Tolan and his co-editor, Stéphane Boissellier, have put much thought into the organization and presentation of the contributions. As I know from recent personal experience, editing a collection of essays can be a formidable undertaking, especially when the contents are so wide-ranging in their interests, scope, and methodologies. Indeed, as Boissellier notes in his thought-provoking introductory remarks meant to lay down the conceptual framework and historiographical underpinnings for the collection as well as foreshadow some of the interconnections between individual contributions, the philosophy of the RELMIN program mandated a certain degree of diversity, with its requirement that the first workshop of the conference be dedicated to the textual foundations of the chosen theme (10). Working with submissions in multiple languages (English, French, and Castilian), furthermore, must have presented a copy-editing challenge, which may explain why the volume is punctuated by more numerous typos and formatting inconsistencies than one is accustomed to seeing in a Brepols publication.

The RELMIN organizers solicited contributions from a diverse group of international scholars, running the gamut from full professors to doctoral candidates, on the general theme of the cohabitation of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in towns throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Although most of the papers adhere closely to this theme, several concern topics that are not strictly urban or that contrast urban with rural conditions. Muslim-ruled societies are in the minority but represented in all but one section of the volume. One of the stated ambitions of the organizers was to reflect on the extent to which case studies integrate harmoniously with well-known syntheses regarding the accommodation and toleration of ethno-religious minorities, such as R.I. Moore's The Formation of a Persecuting Society (13). This would have been a very tall order for an edited volume with this traditional format. It is very possible that the collaborators achieved this ambitious goal during the extended discussions that must have followed each paper over the course of this extended five-day conference. If they did, however, Tolan's insightful yet brief concluding words, together with the preliminary remarks by his co-editor, do not convey much of this synergy, and the reader is not left with a well-defined overarching argument or collective vision but rather a vivid series of isolated detailed snapshots. A couple of these studies (most notably those by Brian Catlos and Rena Lauer) make a concerted effort to connect their case studies to broader methodological and historiographical questions about patterns of ethno-religious interaction and accommodation, but these remain solo rather than collaborative efforts. In the end, as with the vast majority of essay collections, readers will need to use Boissellier's and Tolan's remarks as launching pads for their own thought explorations regarding the broader, collective implications of these assembled papers. The coordinators/editors have grouped the contributions into four equally represented sections. The first deals with the textual foundations that describe the legal context of religious minorities in medieval towns. The essays here suit this theme nicely. Alejandro García-Sanjuán engages in an interesting examination of the norms in Malikite law regarding greeting non-Muslims. Diego Quaglioni delves into the records from a fascinating ritual murder case from Trent to consider the symbolism of rituals captured in the trial transcripts and the implications of the case for the trajectory of anti-Judaism within late fifteenth-century Italy. Tahar Mansouri examines how diverse juridical texts from the Mamluk period transmitted the dhimma pact for subject Jews and Muslims. Finally, Farid Bouchiba mines one highly detailed twelfth-century Malikite legal text to reconstruct 'normative' regulations regarding Muslim use of food and drink produced or prepared by non-Muslims in Cordoba, and concludes that Malikite jurists were generally lenient and only drew the line when it came to alcoholic beverages and pork products.

The second grouping concerns the spatial organization of medieval towns, with special attention to districts accorded to ethno-religious minority communities. In the first of the volume's two studies devoted to Venetian Candia (or Crete), Aleida Paudice presents an overview of the changing accommodation of the Jewish community within the urban context. Using a combination of sources (including some in Hebrew), Paudice documents how Byzantine architectural and cultic influences within Candia played a role in the progressive marginalization of the Jews, eventually culminating in the Jewish quarter's separation from the rest of the town by the fifteenth century. In a paper that must have prompted a fascinating discussion with the Remie Constable in the room, Dominique Valérian considers what juridical, economic, or cultural factors may have limited the presence of Muslim merchants in Christian ports. The editors made the insightful choice to pair Valérian's work with a paper by Pierre Moukarzel that examines the opposite situation: the attitudes of jurists within the Mamluk sultanate regarding the activity of European merchants. Mourkarzel suggests that although the firmly hostile position of numerous fatwas was softened in practice, Christian merchants remained outsiders in sharp contrast to their resident co-religionists (the dhimmi). In the final and most well crafted piece of the section, Brian Catlos elaborates on the theme that has preoccupied most of his work to date: the mobility and cultural integrity enjoyed by Muslims resident within the Crown of Aragon. With two illuminating case studies, he joins a chorus of other scholars who have noticed that rural Muslims remained less regulated than ones living in urban environments.

The third section contains papers that address the implications of the face-to-face coexistence experienced by ethno-religious minorities in their towns. In a tightly focused piece, Elisheva Baumgarten examines references to the Christian liturgical year in a close analysis of a Hebrew-language calendar and considers what they might suggest regarding Jewish knowledge of Christian religious culture. Jews, she suggests, needed to have a basic knowledge of the majority religious culture surrounding them in order to maintain their economic activities and satisfy their legal and fiscal obligations. The late Remie Constable's contribution derives from her line of research on the role bathhouses played in the coexistence of different genders and ethno-religious groups. An examination of chiefly foral literature and statutes from municipal law codes manifests a growing concern over the dangers of the bathhouse environment in the early-modern period resulting in restricted access and closures. These fears contrast sharply with the medieval period in which segregation along ethno-religious lines seemed sufficient to quiet any concerns. In an informative piece that seemed more tailored to the objectives and themes of volume, Maria Filomena Lopes de Barros surveys the judicial powers of the alcaid or Muslim magistrate within Christian-ruled Portugal during the high and late Middle Ages.

Papers in the fourth and final section focus on the litigation and resolution of conflicts in urban environments. Ahmed Oulddali conducts a close examination of a fatwa by the fifteenth-century Malikite jurist Abū al-Faḍl Qāsim al-'Uqbānī, which evaluated what offenses by Jews or Christians could serve to break their dhimmacontract. Katalin Szende's contribution considers how trust in writing reinforced Jewish-Christian relations in medieval Hungary. In a paper that might have fit better in the first section due to its focus on foundational texts, Youna Masset assesses the judicial circumstances and potential for autonomy of Jews and Muslims in the town of Tortosa through close readings of the town's charters of settlement and especially its thirteenth-century customary laws. A number of inaccuracies regarding Tortosa's jurisdictional history did not compromise the validity of Masset's observations. Finally, with an eye to showing the potential for future research regarding interactions among Jewish and Christian women, Rena Lauer considers the potential for mixing within the delimited urban areas of Venetian Candia and the implications shared spaces and resources had for the hierarchization of ethno-religious groups.

Tolan's brief conclusion revisits some of the methodological considerations raised by Boissellier in his introduction and draws attention to some of the connections and divergences within the assembled papers. He emphasizes the shared importance of hierarchies throughout the highly variegated political environments studied by the contributions. In spite of the legislative and juridical attempts to harden and reinforce them, these hierarchies and boundaries were constantly blurred and negotiated by jurists, administrators, and the inhabitants of these towns. He leaves the reader with some remarks on the much-debated question of the causes of the perceived sharp decline in status of Jews and Muslims during the later Middle Ages that is touched on by a number of contributors. We can look forward to further engagement with this and other important debates regarding ethno-religious interaction in the forthcoming final three RELMIN volumes.

Copyright (c) 2016 Tom Barton

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