Vai alla Homepage del Portale di Ateneo Second Cycle Degree/Two Year Master in Global cultures


Chiara Petrolini (Universität Wien)

from 22 February 2022 at 17:00 to 25 February 2022 at 18:45

Aula Specola and ONLINE

The building of new knowledge of the Islamicate world in Early Modern Europe is not a story of relentless intellectual progress. It’s subtler and darker than that: it is also a story of danger, underground contacts, physical and cultural movements, and violence. Military conflicts and irenic tensions, truth and propaganda, clashes between power and faith, confessional polarisation and philological methods, crisis of Christianity and new global perspectives, slavery and missionary strategies. All these elements and others make up the ground from which the first Orientalism was born. 

In this seminar we will follow these different lines that led Europe and its Republic of Letters, between 1529 and 1683 – the two sieges of Vienna – to an increased knowledge of the languages, history and religions especially of the Ottoman Empire and the Near East. At the same time, we will focus on certain persistent patterns in the perception of Islam and Muslims.

After discussing the applicability (or not) of Edward Said's paradigm to the early modern age, we will explore the different approaches to the «Orient» and how different themes are often intertwined in the history of European study of the Quran and Oriental languages: 

  1. Violence and intolerance: the wars in Hungary and the Balkans, expulsions in the Iberian Peninsula, forced conversions, race wars, condemnation and censorship by the ecclesiastical magisteria;
  2. Pragmatism: accepting Islam as a positive law, similar to Christianity, which should be considered legitimate in the political arena as an instrumentum regni; and Turcophilia;
  3. Universalism and «concordia»: belief in the universality of the logos and in a fundamental harmony between the Koran and the Gospel;
  4. Antiquarianism and philology: historicisation of Islam and the quest for an ur-language; 
  5. Missionary Catholicism: Oriental studies to convert peoples;
  6. Mobility: trans-imperial networks, emigration, deportation, scholarly mobility and the contribution of Muslims, Christians and Jews from outside Europe to the development of Orientalism.

As we explore the link between studies of the Arabic-speaking East and the structural crisis of Christianity in Europe, we will see how the collapse of a common truth in Europe, the chaos into which the continent fell, and the inter-confessional polemics are deeply connected to the investigation of the texts and traditions of both Eastern Christians and Muslims/Islam.

To navigate such complex topics, we will use a specific case study as a guide: the Orientalist and imperial librarian Sebastian Tengnagel. His papers (manuscripts, letters, margin notes, notebooks), scholarly practices, and collaboration with a Turkish prisoner of war give us an original insight into Orientalism from a privileged perspective, that of early-17th-century Vienna. 

Special attention will be devoted to the essential contribution made to Orientalism by «hybrid» figures not belonging to the Republic of Letters, and often not from Europe, but from a shifting ecosystem of travellers, adventurers, missionaries, dragomans, converts, merchants and slaves. 

As well as the study of a wide range of sources, stories and people, the seminar will also provide critical discussion of recent and interdisciplinary scholarship and of the lively debates in this field of historical studies.