Transfer and Religion
Interactions between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century
- ISBN: 9783161562419
- Published By: Mohr Siebeck
- Published: January 2021
Transfer and Religion: Interactions between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century is an edited collection stemming from an international, interdisciplinary research group formed through the Center for Islamic Theology of the University of Tübingen. The introduction by volume editors Alexander A. Dubrau, Davide Scotto, and Ruggero Vimercati Sanseverino provides the framework of the collection. The overarching aim of the work is to highlight the existence of “religious transfer” through a study of interactions and transmissions among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The editors note that the concept of transfer, and cultural transfer in particular, is fluid in terms of its definition, methodologies, contexts, and implications. However, they acknowledge its usefulness in thinking globally about moments of interaction among religious individuals and communities, and thus they seek to add religious transfer—defined as “the transferring of knowledge, ideas, objects, texts, and customs of a religious character, which affect religious life on an individual or community level”—to the types of “moveable” elements studied within cultural transfer (3). The volume’s thirteen essays span from the 11th to the 20th century, with part 1 focused on the Middle Ages and early modern period and part 2 moving into the late modern and contemporary periods. Within this vast timeframe, the various case studies focus on religious interactions and transfers in the Mediterranean and Central Europe.
This volume offers two core interventions to the field of cultural transfer. First, the collection provides numerous case studies that convincingly demonstrate both the existence and diversity of religious transfer. Together, these essays illustrate the relevance of religious knowledge, texts, and traditions as objects or aspects of transfer. The wide scope of “movable elements” of religious transfer included in the volume is appreciated; these essays engage with a range of disciplinary methodologies as well as a variety of objects themselves, including polemical texts, theological doctrines, translations, artistic representations, and architecture.
The volume also broadens the scope of religious encounters beyond religious communities or traditions. While at least one essay in part 1 deals with transfers among knowledge traditions beyond Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (see Nadjet Zouggar’s chapter), each of the essays included in part 2 more explicitly widen the boundaries of encounter by thinking about interactions among both religious and secular paradigms, particularly in the emergence of Wissenschaft (scholarship and pursuit of science, broadly understood) as a scholarly approach to religious histories and theologies.
Secondly, Transfer and Religion implies that (religious) transfers are multidimensional. At times, the framing language pulls on scholarship that discusses the effects of transfers in binary terms; for example, the introductory essay contends that interfaith interactions lead “either to the building of bridges or to the exacerbation of contrasts” (3–4) and cites Hartmut Kaelble’s affirmation “that transfer can function either as a disruptive factor or as a benign acceleration of a process” (4). However, the editors also note that “these two aspects of transfer are not mutually incompatible” (5), and the subsequent case studies go even further by illustrating multidimensional aspects of religious transfers beyond and within these two extremes. For example, Andrea Celli argues that symbols and allegories function in multivalent ways. Her work shows that differing poetic and artistic representations of Hagar and her son—including polemical tropes and sympathetic interpretations—meet in works such as the 1550 Quadrins historiques de la Bible (203–6). Tzvi Langermann’s chapter also speaks to the fluidity and coexistence of contradictory dynamics by examining the friendship of Maimonides and al-Qāḍī al-Fāḍil within the context of the early Ayyubid political and polemical atmosphere. These two essays are not the only pieces to engage with the complex reverberations of transfer; this nuanced approach is a strength of the collection. As such, this volume moves the reader away from a binary view of transfer through its rich engagement with a broad spectrum of historical, cultural, and social implications and aspects of religious transfer.
One particular type of multidimensional religious transfer weaves in and out of this volume: translation. Though translation may be a “self-evident case of knowledge transfer” (5), it is far from straightforward. As many scholars argue, translation often becomes a complex process of transformation; some suggest that translations might even be viewed as original texts in their own right (see, for example, Scott L. Montgomery, Science in Translation, University of Chicago Press, 2000). While the authors included in Transfer and Religion do not explicitly argue for this originality view of translations, nonetheless these essays point toward an understanding of translation as a creative, culturally embedded, and interpretive venture.
Accordingly, Davide Scotto’s chapter speaks to the “imaginative” aspect of translation, demonstrating the ways in which qur’ānic translations in the Middle Ages inhabit an “ambiguous” role which is never “purely linguistic [in] nature” (131). For Scotto, translations reveal intentions—in this case, the translators’ positions in the debate on the effectiveness or necessity of the Crusades. Irina Synkova and Michail Tarelka describe how the translations of biblical texts by Tatar-Muslim authors reveal deliberate “religious, ideological, exegetical, or stylistic” choices (178). Enas Aly Ahmed carefully analyzes Miguel Asín Palacios’ translation of Ibn Ḥazm, uncovering the ways in which Asín Palacios’ translation emphasizes his own intellectual commitment to uncover a narrative of “continuity” of transmission for the history of ideas (260–1). Ahmed’s study additionally uncovers the ways in which Spanish Arabists, while studying cultural transfer, are themselves engaged in intellectual transmission through their adaptation of Germanic Orientalist historiographical concepts and methodologies.
Thus, Ahmed’s study, in conjunction with the other essays of this collection, points to the creative and interpretive nature of translations—and of religious transfers more generally. The volume thus serves as a constructive addition to the field. It succeeds in the editors’ aim to identify religious transfer as an object of study, and it collectively illustrates the importance of studying religious transfer and interreligious interaction as part of cultural transmission. The volume also succeeds in its valuable (even if implicit) objective of pushing back against a flat or unilateral understanding of transfer by providing a number of compelling case studies that both affirm and exemplify the multidimensional nature of cultural transfers
Elizabeth Sartell is an assistant professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Theology at Lewis University.Elizabeth SartellDate Of Review:September 20, 2022