Redrawing the Generic Boundaries of Premodern Polemics

AHA Session 269
Sunday, January 6, 2019: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Boulevard B (Hilton Chicago, Second Floor)
Thomas E. Burman, University of Notre Dame
Accusations of Disloyalty in Medieval Arabic Polemics from Egypt: Texts and Subtexts
Luke Benson Yarbrough, University of California, Los Angeles
Polemic, Praise, and Praxis in Medieval Dominican Itineraria
Rita George-Tvrtković, Benedictine University
Polemics and Multilingualism in the Crusading Near East
Uri Zvi Shachar, Ben-Gurion University
Jeremy Pearson, Bryant University

Session Abstract

The growing interest in the encounters and interdependencies between religious communities in the premodern world, has effected a change in how we view polemics. Scholars have come to see polemics not only as straightforward attempts at rebuking rivaling religions, but also as a viable channel of communication and self-fashioning in the defining presence of neighboring faiths. Some polemicists, for example, have been shown to absorb methodologies and even epistemologies from the traditions that they attempted to debunk; the very desire to engage in theological debates with religious opponents is now seen as a sign of the mutual stakes that neighboring communities have come to bear in the premodern Mediterranean. Scholars, in other words, have been more inclined to inquire about the various objectives that authors sought to achieve through deploying polemical arguments – not only, that is, the wish to convert the (imaginary or real) interlocutor or to debunk his tradition. But the recognition that authors drew on multiple means in order to achieve various goals should also lead us to question the generic boundaries that have governed the way we read premodern polemical literature. Polemical sensibilities filtered into any number of textual traditions (ranging from juridical texts and philosophical tracts to romance, poetry, and history) often crossing generic, religious, and linguistic boundaries. By turning to a number of case studies representing the various religious perspectives (Islam, Latin Christianity, Eastern Christianity) based on a number of genres (travel literature, legal treatises, chronicles), the purpose of this panel is to expand and critique the hermeneutical tools with which we interpret polemical impulses in Mediterranean and Near Eastern literatures.
See more of: AHA Sessions