Sunday, 22 March 2015

Luis Salés: 'Aristotelian' as a Lingua Franca: Rationality in Christian Self-Representation under the 'Abbasids

Christian writings in Arabic are likely the most neglected corpus of the medieval period. One might blame colonial historiographies for having tinged narratives of anything east of the Bosporus during (and since!) the 'middle' Ages with a sense of the 'exotic,' as well as exerting considerable force on the representation, misrepresentation, or non-representation of Eastern Christians in general.

It is the object of the following presentation to offer a brief glimpse of a counternarrative in the works by giving voice to an Arabic-writing Christian, Theodore Abū Qurrah (d. ca. 820), and his representation of Christianity under the 'Abbasids. This ephemeral glimpse has the potential to destabilize numerous cherished tropes of colonial discourse and controvert contemporary perceptions of the events that followed upon the Islamic conquest of formerly Roman territory.

To that effect, I exposit how, under the 'Abbasids and particularly as an extension of the settings known as majlis (where, by the patronage and safe-conduct of the Caliphs, Christians and Jews could openly debate with Muslims about their faith), Abū Qurrah defended the rationality of Christianity through Aristotelian logic. (That he was able to presuppose 'Aristotelian' as a lingua franca at all is itself fascinating.) I look specifically at his argumentation in favor of points shared with Jews and Muslims, like God's existence and oneness, but also at his effort to shape Muslim perceptions of Christians as a group whose tenets, like the divine sonship of Jesus Christ, could be rationally defended without requiring recourse to their own Scriptures.

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