The Jewish Discovery of Religion in the Medieval Middle East


ACLS Fellowship Program


Near Eastern and Judaic Studies


The expansion of early Islamic empires placed Islamic communities in close contact with the beliefs and practices of peoples throughout its vast territories and on its borders. The integration of masses of new data led to prototypes of what post-Enlightenment thinkers would call comparative religion. This project studies a seismic shift in Jewish thought whereby Jews in Islamic empires, unlike the rabbis of the Talmud who had defined Jews as an ethnos, adopted a comparative discourse and consequently came to represent Judaism as a religion. This project studies this shift through the engagement of Jewish sources in Judeo-Arabic and Hebrew from several genres (polemics, theology, philosophy, astrology, exegesis, and literature) between the tenth and fifteenth centuries.