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Workshop: Traveling Texts and Transformative Encounters: interreligious Networks between Medieval and Early Modern Asia, Africa and Europe



In this workshop we will examine instances of the circulation of written, oral, and visual media and material culture, between Western Europe, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Eastern Mediterranean, Ethiopia, and South Asia as indicators of religious contact between these regions. More significantly, we seek to examine the transformation of meanings and religious identities which resulted from the circulation of “texts” and peoples over these geographic expanses. We will focus specifically on cosmological and polemical exchanges between different Christian communities, and between Jews, Hindus, and Muslims, and as facilitated by international trade, crusading and missionizing aspirations.  For example, Ethiopian  and Indian Christians drew from Western and Middle Eastern anti-Jewish polemical texts, and reshaped  them to suit their own needs in a new inter-religious environment, which in the Indian case, included Hindus as well.  Jewish sources from the Cairo Geniza testify to the conversion of both Western and Eastern Christians (and possibly Hindus)  to Judaism, a situation that should be understood in the light of Jewish polemic against Christians in the region and to Jewish trade and settlement in India.  Muslims, Western Christians, and Ethiopians alike used tales of Ethiopian control of the Nile in an effort to manipulate one another, even as Ethiopians were importing European artisans and religious iconography, Byzantine polemic, and  Armenian hagiographies dealing with non-Christians.  Such clear indications of contact and exchange of religious meaningful material points to the need to study the inter-relation of these regions and the impact of such exchanges in greater detail.  This workshop takes a first step in this direction.

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