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  • Medieval Christian (Dis)identifications: Muslims and Jews in Guibert of Nogent*
  • Steven F. Kruger (bio)

I. Medieval Latin Christianity and Religious Difference

Recent work in cultural studies has strongly called into question any easy division of “public” and “private,” “political” and “psychological” realms, importantly adopting and furthering feminist critique of the unexamined maintenance of a distinction between the “personal” and the “political.” Thus, for instance, in continuing Foucault’s excavation of the complex and often self-contradictory ways in which large social entities—regimes of sexuality—are constituted, queer theory has insisted on the importance of “psychological” process, bringing psychoanalytic thinkers into the Foucaultian investigation and examining how individual identity formation is implicated with the operation of larger social and cultural forces. 1 My current project, pursuing such an approach, situates itself at a point of intersection between “psychology” and “politics” in order to interrogate the mutual dependence of medieval “personal” and “political” constructs. As much work in cultural studies has shown, both a society’s self-constitution and an individual sense of “self” depend upon the casting out of “others,” the definition of areas of exclusion that secure realms of inclusion. 2 Here, I am concerned with such processes as they operate in relation to medieval religious categories, and I mean to explore the ways in which medieval representations of difference operate both in the construction of a religious hegemony crucial to Western European hierarchical (Christian, masculinist, heterosexist) society and in the securing of a “self” within that larger sociopolitical structure.

For medieval Latin Christianity there were a variety of possible religious (and racial) “others” that might serve the purposes of disidentification: at “home,” there were Jews and “heretics,” at a greater [End Page 185] distance, Eastern (Greek) Christians, Nestorians, and Jacobites, the legendary (Christian) people of Prester John, the Tartars or Mongols, Africans, the Brahmans of India, the “monstrous races,” and Muslims. Jews and Muslims are my subject here because they stand in particularly crucial relations to medieval Latin Christianity. Neither the national and ethnic confreres of Western Christians, as were European “heretics,” nor, like Brahmans or Tartars or Africans, so distant from the Latin West as to have largely legendary status, Jews and Muslims stood in simultaneous proximity to and distance from Western European Christians—that is, in positions that guaranteed them a certain ideological and emotional significance within the processes of Christian self-definition.

While Islam stood largely outside European Christianity, the fact of its “occupation” of Jerusalem, coupled with the sense that it might easily violate—and had in fact (in Spain, France, Italy, the East) violated—the borders of Christian Europe, made for a vivid belief in Islam’s dangerous proximity, expressed most intensely in the repeated enterprise of crusading. By contrast, Judaism stood at least largely within Christendom, and Christian anxieties about Jews—expressed in accusations of ritual desecration, clandestine murder, and the poisoning of wells—were largely ones of proximity. The identification of Jews as different through clothing and “the badge,” 3 their isolation in ghettos, an economy of expulsions from and readmittances to Christian lands all express the strong desire to negate proximity, either by encapsulating the Jewish community and thus neutralizing its “power” or by excising it from the body of Christianity.

Historical relations among the three religions intensified such geopolitical tensions. Despite the intimate, indeed genetic, historical tie between Judaism and Christianity, the great rupture of Christ’s incarnation, and Jewish refusal of that event, necessitated an intense Christian disavowal of Jewish heritage. On the other hand, the structural relation of Christianity to Islam was often understood as exactly reversing that of Christianity to Judaism, with Muhammad depicted as at first a Christian and as founding his religion upon the rejection of Christianity. 4 Here, instead of a new “truth” that fulfills and replaces an incomplete understanding of “truth,” as in Christianity’s narrative of its own birth from Judaism, Islam is presented as a monstrous, debased birth, a “heretical” fall from Christian revelation. Given such a historical account, medieval Christian disavowal of Islam, as of Judaism, is intense. The rejection of Christian doctrine by both Islam and Judaism, by Christianity’s “descendent” as well as its “ancestor...

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pp. 185-203
Launched on MUSE
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