The 2018 Morris W. Offit Symposium on Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Mediterranean World

“Faiths in Dialogue: Art and Architecture, Science and Medicine”
Friday 9 March 2018
Homewood Campus
Gilman Hall, Room 50
Concert to follow, 5-6pm, Great Hall of Levering


8:30-9:15        Light Breakfast
9:15-9:30        Welcome and Opening Remarks (Niloofar Haeri and Lawrence Principe)

9:30-11:45      Session 1 : Art and Architecture
Speakers: Eva Hoffman (Tufts), Ünver Rüstem (JHU), Jennifer Pruitt (Wisconsin-Madison)

12:00 – 1:00    Luncheon

1:00 – 3:15      Session 2 : Science and Medicine
Speakers: Sally Ragep (McGill), Gabriele Ferrario (JHU), Robert Morrison (Bowdoin)

3:15 – 3:30      Coffee

3:30 – 4:45      Keynote Address – F. Jamil Ragep (McGill)

5:00 – 6:00      Concert: Peabody Consort, Mark Cudek, Director – “Music of Three Faiths”   (music from the Court of Alfonso X)

6:00-                Reception


Session 1 : Art and Architecture (9:30-11:45)

9:30 – 10:15 :  “A Space of Exchange: The Intersection of Mediterranean Visual Identities,”  Eva R. Hoffman, Tufts University.

The circulation of art and culture provides a vantage through which to explore the dynamic cross-cultural exchanges that characterized the medieval Mediterranean world between the 10th and 13th centuries. Through a lens of cultural mobility, furthermore, we may challenge traditional classifications of works of art into fixed categories such as “Islamic”, “Christian”, “Jewish” and offer an alternative, more holistic model for mapping art and culture of the region. In this paper, I explore a variety of works that crossed religious, political, and geographic boundaries in the Mediterranean. A discourse of portability allows us to expand the location of visual identity beyond individual dynastic and religious sites of origin to a “space of exchange”. This arena of the medieval Mediterranean world in which works were circulated and viewed, inspired a multiplicity of intersections with an emphasis on interactivity that were multidirectional.

10:15 – 11:00 : “Beyond Boundaries: Istanbul’s Greek Architects and the Globality of Ottoman Baroque Architecture,” Ünver Rüstem, Johns Hopkins University

The Ottoman capital of Istanbul was transformed in the eighteenth century by the rise of a new building style that scholars have dubbed “Ottoman Baroque” in reference to its idiosyncratic adaptation of European-inspired forms. Although dismissed as decadent and inauthentic by many modern observers, such architecture was in its own day highly esteemed by locals and foreigners alike, challenging the idea that the Ottoman Empire succumbed to Western “influence” as it looked for remedies to its decline. Focusing on the leading role of Istanbul’s Greek architects and their transnational networks in assimilating Western models, this talk shows that the empire’s embrace of the Baroque was a conscious and creative move that invoked the Ottomans’ own claim to a Greco-Roman artistic heritage. The resultant monuments, which reasserted the empire’s status in locally grounded but globally resonant terms, compel us to think beyond restrictive East-West binaries and to consider the kinds of cross-cultural interactions and overlaps that gave the Ottoman Baroque its far-reaching scope, appeal, and significance.

11:00 – 11:45 :  “Productive Destruction: Islamic Jerusalem after the Destruction of the Holy Sepulcher,” Jennifer Pruitt, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Fatimid era of Islamic architecture (909-1171) is often held up as an example of artistic efflorescence occurring in concert with multicultural tolerance.  The notable exception given to this narrative is the reign of the “mad” caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (r. 996-1021), who destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and most of the churches in his land. This paper explores Fatimid architecture in Jerusalem in the period immediately following al-Hakim’s destruction of the famous church. Looking at reconstructions, repairs, and demolitions on the Islamic Haram al-Sharif and the Christian Holy Sepulcher, it explores the resurgence of architectural patronage in the early eleventh century. This paper argues that rather than being purely destructive, al-Hakim’s incursion in the city acted as a catalyst for his successor’s investment in the city — suggesting a constructive counterpart to medieval architectural destruction.

Session 2 : Science and Medicine (1:00-3:15)

1:00 – 1:45 : “Two Scientific Textbooks in Islam that (Nevertheless) Persisted,” Sally Ragep, McGill University

Maḥmūd al-Jaghmīnī, who hailed from Central Asia, wrote a corpus of introductory scientific textbooks in Arabic in the late twelfth/early thirteenth centuries. Two of these textbooks became extremely popular: one a treatise on theoretical astronomy and another an abridgment of Ibn Sīnā [Avicenna]’s famous medical compendium. This presentation discusses the influence of these two texts and their many commentaries and translations that were studied extensively for over eight centuries throughout much of the Islamic world. Far from being a stagnant, unchanging tradition, these two texts and their many derivative works indicate a vibrant, evolving pedagogy in astronomy and medicine that could accommodate new ideas, whether by Islamic scholars or from other cultural traditions.

1:45 – 2:30 : “Graeco-Arabic Science among the Medieval Jews of Cairo: The Fragmentary Evidence,” Gabriele Ferrario, Johns Hopkins University

 The translation and assimilation of Greek philosophy and science in the medieval Arabo-Islamic world had a crucial influence not only on the development of Islamic thought, but also on the culture of the other religious communities that lived under Islamic rule. My talk will address the penetration of Graeco-Arabic philosophical and scientific lore within medieval Jewish communities by analyzing the rich evidence retrieved from the Cairo Genizah, a storage room for sacred (and also secular) writings attached to the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo. Among the 350,000 manuscript fragments retrieved from the Genizah, manuscripts of scientific and philosophical works represent a unique and surprisingly rich cache.

2:30 – 3:15 : “Traders, Scholars, and Players: Jews, Muslims, and Christians,” Robert Morrison, Bowdoin College

This presentation, focused on intellectual life in the Eastern Mediterranean around 1500, will describe a multi-religious network of scholars and traders, some of whom were also facile with court culture. This network bridged the Ottoman Empire, Candia (on Crete), and the Veneto.  The scholars exchanged information on topics that included astronomy, astrology, medicine, philosophy, and religious thought.  Although historians of science have been most attracted to the possibility of explaining the parallels between Renaissance astronomy and the astronomy of Islamic societies, this presentation demonstrates that there is a much broader context that comprised a number of fields and that the broader context for this scholarly exchange was commercial activity.  Most important, we shall see that information flowed in both directions as the scholarly intermediaries were quite interested in developments in Europe.

Keynote Address (3:30 – 4:45)

“Tales of Transmission: Scientific Exchanges in the Pre-modern Period,” F. Jamil Ragep, McGill University

Tracing the transmission of scientific ideas, theories, instruments, terms—just to name a few possibilities—is an important part of the history of science. But why is it important? One of the things we can learn is that transmission involves selection and transformation, which can tell us significant things about both the transmitting and the receiving cultures. There is also serendipity, reminding us that history is contingent. In this talk, we will look at several cases of transmission during the premodern period, trying to draw some conclusions about inter-cultural transmission and its importance for helping us understand those cultures.

Concert (5:00 – 6:00), in the Great Hall of Levering Hall

The Peabody Consort: “Music of Three Faiths”

Julie Bosworth, soprano

Mark Cudek, director, gittern, percussion

Brian Kay, oud, voice

Niccolo Seligmann, vielle

Guest artist: Daphna Mor, voice, ney, recorders

The Program in Islamic Studies

The Program in Islamic Studies at Johns Hopkins University was established in 2014. We organize a variety of courses covering various time periods and geographical areas in a variety of disciplines intersecting with the Islamic world and its cultures. We offer an undergraduate minor and host speakers and events on campus throughout the academic year. Our aim is to educate students and promote understanding about Muslims and Islam in historical and comparative perspective, and in the context of Islam’s co-existence with many other faiths. We support a cross-disciplinary approach that spans history, the history of science, the history of art, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, literature, Near Eastern studies, and other fields.

The 2018 Morris W. Offit Symposium on Muslims, Christians, and Jews around the Mediterranean has received additional cosponsorship from The Singleton Center for the Study of Premodern Europe and The Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Program in Jewish Studies

Morris W. Offit is Chairman of Offit Capital (a Wealth Management Advisory firm); prior to that time, he was Founder and CEO of OFFITBANK, a wealth management private bank, which merged into Wachovia Bank in 1999.  Mr. Offit began his career in 1960 at Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Company in Baltimore in investment research.  He joined Salomon Brothers in 1969 and for ten years was a General Partner, establishing the Stock Research Department with subsequent responsibility for fixed income and equity sales.

Mr. Offit received a BA from Johns Hopkins University (1957) and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (1960).  He was the recipient of an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Johns Hopkins University in 1996.  In 1983, he served as Adjunct Professor of Finance at the Columbia Graduate School of Business, lecturing on the secondary capital markets. Primary affiliations in the non-profit sector include:  Johns Hopkins University (Former Chairman), Jewish Museum (Former Chairman), UJA-Federation of New York (Former Chairman and President), and WNET (Trustee), The American Museum of the Revolution (Philadelphia) (Trustee). Mr. Offit was formerly a Director of the AIG Board and Chairman of Finance and Risk Management Committee.

The Program in Islamic Studies at Johns Hopkins University gratefully acknowledges Mr. Offit’s generous support that made this Symposium possible, and whose gifts and encouragement have so greatly enriched the Program’s offerings and operation.