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Jews and Christians between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean: Co-existence and Conflict 600-1800 CE

Bochum, Germany, 23 July-3 August 2018


About the Course


The JewsEast research project seeks to establish a new area of study – relations between Jews and Eastern Christian communities from the rise of Islam to the end of the eighteenth century. As part of this endeavor, the JewsEast summer school was aimed at introducing this research topic (including the results of the JewsEast research project) to young scholars, as well as giving them an opportunity to present original research related to this topic and receive feedback. It is our hope that such an endeavor will encourage the course participants to conduct research related to this topic in the future and will provide them with methodological means and the necessary knowledge base to do so.

Seventeen doctoral candidates and MA students from a variety of countries and specializing in a variety of disciplines and relevant regions attended the course. Countries from which the students came included Germany, Ethiopia, the United States, India, Romania, Russia and Georgia. The course was taught by the members and associates of the JewsEast research team, and by Dr. Susan Thomas of the Sree Sankarachyra University of Sanskrit, Kalady.

The geographical area under examination in this course extends from the eastern Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, and includes the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Horn of Africa and India. A basic premise of the research project which was emphasized in the course is that all these regions, during the time period under examination, were connected through trade, travel and cultural exchange. Hence, in order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the relations between Jews and Eastern Christians, the different regions within the overall geographical area should be studied together.

The students were invited to deconstruct various stereotypes, including the “civilizational model” and that of a “clash of civilizations”. Instead, it was suggested that the history of Jewish-Christian relations be studied in “entangled” cross-cultural, transregional contexts, avoiding ethnocentric or nationalist biases. The formation of complex identities and interreligious communities during the relevant time period was examined. The question of how these perspectives should affect our understanding of inter-religious relations in both the past and the present was considered.

Three types of lessons were offered:

Introductory classes, aimed at familiarizing participants with the various regions, their histories, and the specifics of pre-modern Jewish-Christian relations in them, along with the primary source materials available for studying them.

Theoretical classes, aimed at overarching, comparative issues for the study of pre-modern Jewish-Christian relations in the “East”, including concepts of alterity, processes of cultural transfer, constructions and impositions of identity, material culture, trade, social relations, apocalyptic literature and polemics.

Skills and methods classes, introducing the students to basic manuscript skills, including paleography in the various languages of the sources: Ge‘ez, Malayalam and Garshuni Malayalam, Syriac, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew and Armenian, as well as to approaches to art historical, archaeological and oral sources.

In addition, each student delivered a presentation on his / her research topic, which was followed by a discussion in which feedback was given. The course also included a field trip to Cologne, with a focus on archaeological finds shedding light on the city’s medieval Jewish community and touching upon medieval Jewish-Christian relations in this city.

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