Illusory Bliss

16 Mar

Received my Speculum in the mail yesterday (if you ever want to discover just how removed people who are interested in Medieval History are from the rest of the world, just tell all your non-MH friends, “I got my new speculum in the mail today!” They’ll first look at you very strangely, then wonder why you don’t drive a better car).

Anyway, The first article is an interesting essay by Jonathan P. Conant, “Europe and the African Cult of Saints, circa 350-900: An Essay on Mediterranean Communications.” It’s pretty good – he goes into a lot of detail regarding how African Saints came to be revered on the continent including points of transmission – in particular via Spain and Italy. But I’m more interested in this statement of his, “Despite occasional voices of dissent, historians of late antiquity have tended to imagine that the conversion of Africa to Islam was both rapid and thorough, a vision that necessarily implies that the movement of Christian African cults into the rest of the Mediterranean world was completed over the course of the eighth century at the latest.” (p3) Conant disagrees with this.

My question is whether that’s actually the current state of thought – I know that by having only gotten interested in the period over the past 15 years and generally reading pretty recent publications, I’ve missed a good deal of historical argument over various issues. However my impression of current thought has been that elites living in Muslim lands tended to convert from Christianity fairly quickly as this helped them gain more important administrative posts (and frequently reduced taxation) but the rank-and-file converted much more slowly and Islam did not particularly pressure them to convert. I had certainly thought that Christians continued to be a substantial (though slowly diminishing) part of the N African population for centuries. And yes, I understand that Spain was very different from Africa and we can’t project what happened in the former onto the latter.

Anyway, I’d be curious as to what the current state of thought is and also a reference or two – I’m thinking I might have missed something in my admittedly very cursory reading on the subject.

And I apologize for not following up on my first Heather post yet. I finished the book some time ago but just haven’t had several hours to compose something worthwhile. I’ll get to it though.

Conant, Jonathan P. (2010) “Europe and the African Cult of Saints, circa 350-900: An Essay on Mediterranean Communications.” Speculum 85, 1-46.

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Posted by on March 16, 2010 in Religion


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