Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Simple Belief

Religion and Society in Syria at the End of Antiquity

Prof. Jack Tannous

Abstract

I hope to complete a book on Christians and Muslims in the Late Antique and early medieval Middle East. It will seek to look at the relationship between popular and learned Christianity and to use the tension between these two to understand the spread and development of pre-Sunni Islam in the early medieval Middle East. A significant goal of the book will be to invert our understanding of minority-majority religions in the region in this period.

The book will fall into two parts: the first will provide a description of intercommunal relations between Middle Eastern Christians both before and after the Islamic conquests. It will argue that the confessional situation was more fluid and ill-defined than scholars have recognized and that Christianity encompassed a broad spectrum of beliefs and practices that is not adequately captured by traditional divisions of the Christian community into Miaphysites, Chalcedonians, Nestorians, etc.

The second part of the book will seek to understand how Muslim conquerors fit into this confessional landscape and will argue that traditional understandings of Middle Eastern history which treat Christians as the minority and Muslims as the majority in the region need to be reversed: we cannot properly understand Islam unless we see it as a minority religion which developed in the shadow of a non-Muslim majority.

The religious belief of what contemporary texts refer to as ‘simple people’ will be a major focus and the book will draw on Greek, Syriac, and Arabic sources, a number of which are still in manuscript and which have been scarcely utilized by scholars of this period. It will seek to speak to Byzantinists, Islamicists, and scholars of Eastern Christianity.