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  • L'Islam visto da Occidente. Cultura e religione del Seicento europeo di fronte all'Islam. Atti del Convegno Internazionale (Milano, Università degli Studi, 17-18 ottobre 2007)
  • Eric R. Dursteler
L'Islam visto da Occidente. Cultura e religione del Seicento europeo di fronte all'Islam. Atti del Convegno Internazionale (Milano, Università degli Studi, 17-18 ottobre 2007). Edited by Bernard Heyberger, Mercedes García-Arenal, Emanuele Colombo, and Paola Vismara. (Milan: Casa Editrice Marietti. 2009. Pp. xxii, 356. €24,00 paperback. ISBN 978-8-821-19409-2.)

This volume grew out of a 2007 conference held in Milan, which brought together scholars from France, Great Britain, and Italy to consider the European response to Islam over the course of the long seventeenth century. Organizationally, the book begins with an introduction that places the somewhat disparate essays into dialogue with one another and situates them in a broader historiographical context. The volume is then divided into two sections:" Images and Practices of Islam in European Culture," which considers ways in which scholars, travelers, philosophers, and others depicted Islam; and "Politics and Religion Confronted by Islam," which examines how political, diplomatic, and military encounters informed evolving European views of Islam.

Some of the volume's more notable essays include Mercedes García-Arenal's examination of how Spanish historians dealt with the problematic Islamic past of Andalusia. The standard early-modern narratives portrayed Spain's Islamic period as an anomalous interlude of foreign invasion; however, in the case of Granada this did not work since the city's long Muslim history left it lacking the ecclesiastical chronology that was integral to these histories. The solution was found in a number of spurious ancient texts that remade the region's early Arab and Jewish settlers into more acceptable groups, all in the service of manufacturing a purer and less problematic Spanish identity.

Loubna Khayati argues in her contribution that, although the Enlightenment is held to have had a generally favorable view of Islam, the persistence of highly critical stances with deep historical roots often is ignored. Also overlooked is the existence of more nuanced views on Islam that preceded the seemingly more tolerant eighteenth century. This is evident in the works of various seventeenth-century libertine writers who found in Islamic attitudes toward sex and politics ideas quite compatible with their own. [End Page 821]

In her essay on Veneto-Ottoman relations, Maria Pia Pedani shows that the hostilities of the second half of the seventeenth century had a profound impact on Venice's dealings with its powerful neighbor. Prior to the outbreak of the War of Candia, the Venetians maintained a policy of pragmatism and accommodation. The half-century of war saw a fundamental shift in which Venice ceased to fear the Ottomans, who became instead the object of both growing study as well as some derision. Emanuele Colombo also examines the failed Ottoman siege of Vienna in 1683 and its impact on Jesuit views of Islam. The victory was perceived as an act of God, and its aftermath saw a reassessment of the appropriate approach to Islam. Some Jesuits held that the time was ripe for a renewed evangelical attempt in the Islamic world, which flew in the face of centuries-old assumptions that Muslims were nearly impossible to convert.

These and the other essays in the volume fit into an extensive and well-established historiography on European responses to Islam. Groundbreaking studies by Clarence Dana Rouillard, Samuel Chew, R.W. Southern, Norman Daniel, and Robert Schwoebel developed a synchronic depiction of hostility and misunderstanding that varied little during the medieval and Renaissance periods that were their focus. More recent works by Maxime Rodinson, Lucette Valensi, Joan-Pau Rubiés, and others have complicated this monochromatic picture and have instead suggested a more nuanced and historicized understanding of changing early-modern views of the Ottoman Empire influenced by evolving political and economic ties with Europe.

L'Islam visto da Occidente fits squarely and modestly into this new scholarship; its contribution is in expanding the conversation into the often overlooked gap between these early treatments and those of the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries discussed by Edward Saïd in...


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