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Religious Conflict and Accommodation in the Early Modern World emerged from a 2003 lecture series and symposium sponsored by the Center for Early Modern History (CEMH), University of Minnesota, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. As Jamie Rae Bluestone and William D. Phillips Jr. make clear in their introduction, the essays of this collection challenge the post-Enlightenment perspective, so dominant throughout the twentieth century, which regards early modern religion as a vestige of the superstitious medieval past. Proponents of this paradigm typically view the secularization of society, separation of church and state, and recognition of liberty of conscience as hallmarks of modernity, while rejecting religion’s utility as a public moral force. The present collection, on the other hand, contributes to a growing body of scholarship that acknowledges the continued significance and complexity of the religious impact upon the early modern world (ca. 1350–1750). Religious differences often spawned internal religious conflicts within, as well as external wars between, the world religions of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity. Equally often, however, early modern political and religious leaders achieved accommodation through dialogue and compromise, not only vis-à-vis external enemies, but also with opponents within their respective faiths.
James D. Tracy’s essay, “The Background War of the Early Modern Era: Christian and Muslim States in Contest for Dominion, Trade, and Cultural Preeminence,” continues in this vein, arguing that the long-standing conflict between Islamdom and Christendom for global dominance continued as a “background war” during the early modern era behind more immediate concerns as “statesmen, merchants, and religious thinkers, European and Ottoman alike, were preoccupied by enemies or rivals of their own faith” (p. 13). Thus the French monarchy entered into alliances with the Sublime Porte and the Dutch Republic against the Hapsburgs, while Ottoman Sunnis campaigned repeatedly against Shi‘ite Persians. Meanwhile, as Charles V competed with Suleiman I in elaborate displays of state power, northern European Christian allies of the Porte undercut Venetian Levant trade and controlled eastern Mediterranean commerce upon which the Ottomans depended by collaborating with Arab, Jewish, and Turkish merchants and defending their routes with heavily armed galleons. The [End Page 426] Book Reviews 427 combined mercantile interests, state-sponsored warfare, and Western “cultural offensive in which all Europeans—Habsburg or Habsburg-foe, Protestant or Catholic—spoke a common language” (p. 33) shifted the balance of global power. “Europeans came to outmatch the Ottomans not by working together, but by working at cross purposes” (p. 26).
Anne Marie Wolf’s essay, “Pleas for Peace, Problems for Historians: A 1455 Letter from Juan de Segovia to Jean Germain on Countering the Threat of Islam,” examines a fascinating exchange between Spanish theologian-conciliarist Juan de Segovia and French bishop Jean Germain following the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Rather than calling for a holy war against the Ottoman Empire, Segovia proposed that Christian theologians follow Christ’s command to love their enemies and engage in peaceful dialogue with Muslim leaders, trusting that the “sword” of Holy Scripture and reason would convince them of the “truth.” Wolf’s contribution here is commendable, although assessing her bold claim that Segovia’s “arguments . . . taken to their logical conclusions . . . would have supported a stance of religious toleration” three centuries before the Enlightenment (pp. 62–63) is more difficult. Segovia regarded Muslims with disdain and sought the eradication of Islam. He differed from his Catholic contemporaries only in the means he recommended to accomplish this goal: peaceful conversion rather than the slaughter of Muslims. Thus he proposed a short-term modus vivendi more along the lines of “concordance” than “toleration.” Nonetheless, in an earlier letter to Nicholas of Cusa, mentioned but not discussed here by Wolf, Segovia seems to have come closer to true toleration when he acknowledged that long-term dialogue between leading Muslims and Christians would yield important political advantages even if it failed, or required many years, to achieve religious unity.1