The essays in this volume, exploring writings by and about Christian, Jewish, and Muslim preachers, have their beginnings in a pair of workshops on preaching in the medieval Mediterranean. Overarching themes include what we might call the gaze: one group's critical view of another, and crosstalk: leaders of religious communities defending confessional identities against perceived foes. Six of the twelve offerings focus on Iberian subjects, as readers might anticipate given the proximity to each other of Jews, Muslims, and Christians in some parts of the peninsula. Other contributions treat preachers, their subjects, and their listeners in southern France and Italy, in Marrakesh and Egypt, and, perhaps most interestingly, in Scandinavia. The temporal range is roughly the thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries. The volume positions itself at the nexus of sermon studies and comparative inter-religious or transcultural studies.
The entries are arrayed in three parts:
Part One, "Religious and Gendered Identities and Alterities," offers four chapters. The first two examine the interactions of preachers with female audiences or drawing upon metaphors of femininity. Chapters three and four examine approaches taken by sermonizers to an "absent presence": chapter three explores Aljamiado-speaking communities, Mudejars and Moriscos operating in a linguistic and cultural space between Christian Latin and Arabic; and chapter four looks at how preachers and artists in Scandinavia framed Christian virtues positively in contrast to what they imagined to be negative Jewish and Muslim habits and mentalities.
Part Two: "Hermeneutical Identities, Alterities, and Transcultural Relations in Christian and Jewish Preaching," provides four chapters, all of which address the impacts of Christian preaching on anti-Jewish thoughts and actions. The authors in this set of essays engage each other in the ongoing historical debate about whether Christian preachers antagonized and incited anti-Jewish violence or whether preachers and audiences allowed for nuanced responses to Christian-Jewish discourses, which might include a public's misinterpretation of and over-enthusiasm for a preacher's message. Vincent Ferrer, as he often does, takes centerstage in the cross-current of possibilities.
Part Three, "Muslim and Christian Orators and Inter-Faith Encounters" offers four chapters illustrating the ways that preaching reflected and responded to encounters between adherents of differing religions. Linda Jones, for instance, suggests multiple readings of a homiletic story from Egypt of the miraculous conversion of Christian monks to Islam. The text may have had its origins in efforts to accommodate Post-Conquest Andalusi immigrants and Maghrebi Sufi migrants into Egypt, illustrating their contribution to the efforts to convert Coptic Christians and giving them a part in an exemplum on the benefits to other Muslims of conversion to Sufism. In total the chapters in this section have us reflect on Christian approaches to both militancy and dialogue while also encountering Muslim proselytism and rebuttals of anti-Muslim polemics.
Readers should bring to the volume a broad view of the term "preaching." Although James I, King of Aragon and Count of Barcelona, was not a preacher in any strict sense, he appears as the protagonist in a paper on the speeches given at the Barcelona corts of 1228; records of his own speech show him using the methods of messianic preachers to convince others to follow him into the conquest of Mallorca. In another contribution, the manuscripts addressing a "dispute" between the Franciscan Pedro de Alcántara and the legal scholar Abdalá Oropesa combine sermon elements with formal debate structures, while also indicating manipulation by later interpolators. Two of the contributors offer visual as well as textual evidence to confirm their assertions about how one community viewed another. Some of articles advance preaching as moralizing or edification, others as advancing political or diplomatic positions, others as framing identities or being used as fuel in identity contests. Perhaps readers will not be surprised by the diversity of approaches to preaching and preachers, but it is valuable to recognize that this takes us some distance from the research of earlier generations of scholars focused on Christian (male) raconteurs and their intra-ecclesial texts.
I found one thing about the volume bothersome. Whereas Christian and Muslim communities appear internally differentiated, sometimes quite colorfully so, several of the papers addressed Jewish communities flatly as "the Jews." Beyond merely repeating the language of the texts, the scholars appear here to have overlooked the potential multiplicity of views within Jewish communities even as they acknowledge the specific cultural positioning of some Jewish preacher-leaders. As the introduction notes (13), "Jews did not regard either Christians or Christianity as monolithic;" but it appears that Jews continue to be viewed as monolithic by others. Rather than presume a degree of unicity, I would have preferred greater sensitivity to distinguishing Jewish actors and audiences as multiple and diverse. Women, similarly, although recognized as a subject of the collection's first section on gendered identities, come across as a placeholder category or as a window for reflection upon something other than real women who once lived and breathed.