To Live Like a Moor: Christian Perceptions of Muslim Identity in Medieval and Early Modern Spain

University of Pennsylvania Press
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What do clothing, bathing, or dining habits reveal about one's personal religious beliefs? Nothing, of course, unless such outward bodily concerns are perceived to hold some sort of spiritual significance. Such was the case in the multireligious world of medieval Spain, where the ways in which one dressed, washed, and fed the body were seen as potential indicators of religious affiliation. True faith might be a matter of the soul, but faith identity could also literally be worn on the sleeve or reinforced through performance of the most intimate functions of daily life.

The significance of these practices changed over time in the eyes of Christian warriors, priests, and common citizens who came to dominate all corners of the Iberian peninsula by the end of the fifteenth century. Certain "Moorish" fashions occasionally crossed over religious lines, while visits to a local bathhouse and indulgence in a wide range of exotic foods were frequently enjoyed by Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. Yet at the end of the Middle Ages, attitudes hardened. With the fall of Granada, and the eventual forced baptism of all Spain's remaining Muslims, any perceived retention of traditional "Moorish" lifestyles might take on a sinister overtone of disloyalty and resistance. Distinctive clothing choices, hygienic practices, and culinary tastes could now lead to charges of secret allegiance to Islam. Repressive legislation, inquisitions, and ultimately mass deportations followed.

To Live Like a Moor traces the many shifts in Christian perceptions of Islam-associated ways of life which took place across the centuries between early Reconquista efforts of the eleventh century and the final expulsions of Spain's converted yet poorly assimilated Morisco population in the seventeenth. Using a wealth of social, legal, literary, and religious documentation in this, her last book, Olivia Remie Constable revealed the complexities and contradictions underlying a historically notorious transition from pluralism to intolerance.

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About the author

Olivia Remie Constable (1960-2014) was the Robert M. Conway Director of the Medieval Institute and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. She was author of Trade and Traders in Muslim Spain: The Commercial Realignment of the Iberian Peninsula 900-1500 and Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean World: Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources, her monumental collection of primary source material, is also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press. Robin Vose is Professor of History at St. Thomas University, New Brunswick, Canada. David Nirenberg is the Deborah R. and Edgar D. Jannotta Distinguished Service Professor of Social Thought, Medieval History, Romance Languages and Literatures, and the College at the University of Chicago.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Pennsylvania Press
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Published on
Nov 13, 2017
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Pages
248
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ISBN
9780812294675
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / Medieval
History / Europe / Spain & Portugal
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Toward the end of the fifteenth century, Spanish Christians near the border of Castile and Muslim-ruled Granada held complex views about religious tolerance. People living in frontier cities bore much of the cost of war against Granada and faced the greatest risk of retaliation, but had to reconcile an ideology of holy war with the genuine admiration many felt for individual members of other religious groups. After a century of near-continuous truces, a series of political transformations in Castile—including those brought about by the civil wars of Enrique IV's reign, the final war with Granada, and Fernando and Isabel's efforts to reestablish royal authority—incited a broad reaction against religious minorities. As Thomas Devaney shows, this active hostility was triggered by public spectacles that emphasized the foreignness of Muslims, Jews, and recent converts to Christianity.

Enemies in the Plaza traces the changing attitudes toward religious minorities as manifested in public spectacles ranging from knightly tournaments, to religious processions, to popular festivals. Drawing on contemporary chronicles and municipal records as well as literary and architectural evidence, Devaney explores how public pageantry originally served to dissipate the anxieties fostered by the give-and-take of frontier culture and how this tradition of pageantry ultimately contributed to the rejection of these compromises. Through vivid depictions of frontier personalities, cities, and performances, Enemies in the Plaza provides an account of how public spectacle served to negotiate and articulate the boundaries between communities as well as to help Castilian nobles transform the frontier's religious ambivalence into holy war.

The challenges of cultural and religious diversity that face European and American societies today are not a new phenomenon. People in the Middle Ages lived in pluralistic societies, and they found highly interesting ways of dealing with religious and cultural diversity. While religious and political authorities commanded people to stick to their kind, some people explored the borderland between religious identities. In medieval Iberia, Christians and Muslims challenged the legal authorities’ prohibitions against crossing religious and cultural boundaries when they engaged in mixed marriages between Muslims and Christians or converted from one religion to the other. By examining the topics of conversion and mixed marriages in legal texts of Muslim and Christian origin, Pluralism in the Middle Ages explores the construction of boundaries as well as the reasons explaining such constructions. It demonstrates that the religious and social boundaries were not static, nor were they similarly defined by Islamic and Christian medieval cultures. Moreover, the book argues that Muslims and Christians in medieval Iberia did not constitute clearly separated groups, since various categories of people haunted the boundaries between them: false converts employing taqiya strategy (taking on an outward Christian identity while practicing Islam in secret), those engaged in mixed marriages or interreligious sexual relations (and their children), and converts, whose conversion may be perceived as sincere or insincere, total or partial.

In the medieval and early modern periods, Spain shaped a global empire from scattered territories spanning Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Historians either have studied this empire piecemeal—one territory at a time—or have focused on monarchs endeavoring to mandate the allegiance of far-flung territories to the crown. For Yuen-Gen Liang, these approaches do not adequately explain the forces that connected the territories that the Spanish empire comprised. In Family and Empire, Liang investigates the horizontal ties created by noble family networks whose members fanned out to conquer and subsequently administer key territories in Spain's Mediterranean realm.

Liang focuses on the Fernández de Córdoba family, a clan based in Andalusia that set out on mobile careers in the Spanish empire at the end of the fifteenth century. Members of the family served as military officers, viceroys, royal councilors, and clerics in Algeria, Navarre, Toledo, Granada, and at the royal court. Liang shows how, over the course of four generations, their service vitally transformed the empire as well as the family. The Fernández de Córdoba established networks of kin and clients that horizontally connected disparate imperial territories, binding together religious communities—Christians, Muslims, and Jews—and political factions—Comunero rebels and French and Ottoman sympathizers—into an incorporated imperial polity. Liang explores how at the same time dedication to service shaped the personal lives of family members as they uprooted households, realigned patronage ties, and altered identities that for centuries had been deeply rooted in local communities in order to embark on imperial careers.
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