Muhammad in Latin Christian Contexts

Muhammad in Latin Christian Contexts

Comparing Modes of Dis/integration of Religious Otherness in Historiographical Traditions, 8th to 13th Centuries

 Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Matthias Tischler, Marie Curie Senior Researcher

Funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation

1. State of the Art

Only in recent times, research on the overwhelming transmission of medieval texts, reflecting the materiality and mediality but also the quantity and quality of literacy and its relationship to oral patterns, has become an ever growing paradigm of modern historical and cultural sciences. They analyze the construction of human memory, understanding and planning, and now even seek an extensive exchange with the scientific exploration of the physiological preconditions of human memory. Nevertheless, most of this research is located in an intracultural framework. After the groundbreaking results of the Heidelberg and Constance schools of Jan and Aleida Assmann and the Frankfurt school of Johannes Fried on the cultural and historical memory and on the formation of human memory in more or less literate societies, but also after the theoretical reflections and practical studies of the Vienna school of Walter Pohl on processes of the ethnographical, public and religious transformations from the Late Roman World to the Early Middle Ages, we should now question the paradigm of the cultural and historical memory from transcultural perspectives of the Middle Ages as well. Considering the current debates on cultural and religious integration all over Europe, we can no longer postpone the question on Muhammad‘s place in Latin Europe’s memorial culture, especially from the point of view of the transcultural and global historiography of the Middle Ages, whose existence and importance has only been detected most recently. The following lines may explain why discovering the historicity of the founder of Islam within and through the historiography of medieval Europe has remained an oddly understudied field of international research.

2. Foreign and Own Groundwork

An interdisciplinary appreciation of Muhammad‘s place in Latin Europe’s memorial culture of the Middle Ages has only been initiated some years ago. But with the exception of the unpublished Master’s thesis of Marieke van Acker, most of the scientific work on Muhammad’s medieval images has been realized without a comparative perspective. Although the most important Latin texts on Muhammad have been studied intensively with regard to their positive knowledge of his life and work and to their specific literary pictures and facets, concerning the circumstances of his preaching of a new faith, of his death and burial, of his tomb and his representation in art, very often these traditions have been removed from their narrative, historical and theological contexts. It is only in the last years that some Lives and Legends of Muhammad have been reintegrated into their original textual and social, local, spatial and religious contexts, after having realized their integral function within greater compilations of texts or even moulded literary works. These biographical sketches show great variety in form and content, ranging from short, little coherent data to larger, chronological and detailed compositions. At the same time, the latest research not only of (Early) Modern Times, but also of the Middle Ages has formulated the desideratum of a comparative transcultural and even global historiography of and in Europe, Africa and Asia, particularly as previous research of (universal) historiography of Latin Europe has been an exclusively intracultral matter or has even explicitly asserted the partial or entire exclusion of any alterity in the historiographical writing of the Middle Ages. We are therefore in the situation of a scientific contradiction: Whereas the modern historiography of medieval historiography is scarcely sensitized for transcultural and theological perspectives on phenomena such as the representation of a new religious movement and its founder like Islam and Muhammad, religious and Islamic studies traditionally are more interested in finding hard facts of the prophet than in the textual and social contexts of their medieval historiographical representations.
Our questionary is based on a series of excellent and reliable preparation work. We have at our disposal a recently published repertory of testimonies of Christian-Muslim encounters (now going up to Late Middle Ages). But an examination of this repertory has revealed that not all historiographical texts of our research project have been considered. In the last years, the project leader himself has developed some preparation work on contents, methods and conceptions of his new research project. Within the framework of the DFG-Priority Programme 1173 ‚Integration and Disintegration of Cultures in the European Middle Ages‘ (2005–2011) he has developed the Bibliotheca Islamo-Christiana Latina (BICL), a permanently updated electronic repertory of editions and modern translations of Christian-Latin texts on Muhammad and Islam in the Middle Ages. Within the DAAD/MICINN-Programme ‚Acciones Integradas Hispano-Alemanas‘ he has furthermore organized and managed a Spanish-German group of researchers together with his colleague Prof. Dr. Alexander Fidora (UAB) on ‚Discovering Religion as a Historical Phenomenon. Changes in the Perception of Judaism, Christianity and Islam during the Middle Ages‘ (2009–2010). This international exchange has worked out the main lines of the discovery of historicity of ‚religions‘ in philosophical, theological and historiographical discourses between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the medieval Iberian Peninsula. The project leader has published the results of his proper research project on the role of Muhammad and Islam in the Latin historiography of the Iberian Peninsula, 8th to 13th centuries, in several German, English and Spanish surveys.

3. Purposes of the Project

Despite this situation of research, dis/integration of Muhammad‘s life and work in the historiography of the European Middle Ages is the perfect showpiece of ‚entangled’ or ‚shared history‘, because it demonstrates that processes of hybridity of cultural and religious traditions, the results of ‚connectivity‘ and globalization, not only exist on the daily social-economic, political and cultural levels of migration, travel, traffic, diplomacy and technical transfer, but also on the imaginary intellectual level of central historiographical texts of Latin Europe, fed by the contacts of the former levels. Sifting through the already known text material has shown that we are not confronted with a phenomenon of the High Middle Ages. The first attempts to integrate aspects of Muhammad‘s life and work into the historiography of Europe already belong to the Early Middle Ages, especially to the Iberian Peninsula (8th and 9th centuries), Byzantium (early 9th century) and Byzantine Southern Italy (late 10th century), all being vanguard regions of Christian-Muslim encounters.

Against the backdrop of these statements we urgently need the consequent recontextualization of these historiographical traditions of Muhammad in a fourfold manner, which:
a) respects the specificities of the different sorts of texts on Muhammad, comparing them with their final historiographical products,
b) analyzes the individual achieved representations of transfer of knowledge on Muhammad, investigating their argumentative structure in the narration,
c) assesses the social and religious networks lying behind these processes of transfer and transformation, that form the social-religious state of the societies, bearing these processes, and finally
d) understands historicizing Muhammad not only as an unavoidable reaction to defeat and submission of Christians by Muslims since the 7th century, but especially as an emergent process of growing appropriated theological appraisal of his life and work as a ‚lawgiver’ and ‚prophet’ within Jewish-Christian traditions.


Matthias M. Tischler: "Lost in Translation. Orality as a Tricky Filter of Memory in Arabo-Latin Processes of Transfer", in: Translatio. Transition, Mobility and Change in Medieval Culture (Exemplaria scholastica. Textos i estudis medievals 6), ed. by Joan Curbet - Alberto Reche, Santa Coloma de Queralt 2014, p. 167–176.

Matthias M. Tischler: "'Lex Mahometi'. Die Erfolgsgeschichte eines vergleichenden Konzepts der christlichen Religionspolemik", in: Das Gesetz – The Law – La Loi (Miscellanea Mediaevalia 38), ed. by Andreas Speer - Guy Guldentops, Berlin - Boston 2014, p. 527–573.

Matthias M. Tischler: "Iberian Translation-based Chronicles, Twelfth to Thirteenth Centuries. New Sources for the Arabo-Latin Translation Movement in the Iberian Peninsula", in: Journal of Transcultural Medieval Studies 1, 2 (2014) p. 175–218.

Matthias M. Tischler: "'Lex Mahometi'. The Authority of a Pattern of Religious Polemics", in; Journal of Transcultural Medieval Studies 2, 1 (2015) p. 3–62.

Campus d'excel·lència internacional U A B