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Title: Islamic Letters in the European Enlightenment
Authors: Bevilacqua, Alexander
Advisors: Grafton, Anthony T
Contributors: History Department
Keywords: Arabic
Subjects: History
European studies
Islamic culture
Issue Date: 2014
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the European study of Arabic and of Islamic intellectual traditions transformed, with important consequences. For the first time, European scholars accurately translated the Qur'an, other religious writings, and ancient Arabic poetry. They also used native sources to study Islamic history. At the same time, many European writers, both Catholic and Protestant, developed a newly sympathetic view of Islam, portraying it as a plausible set of beliefs with many similarities to Christianity. To justify their newfound interest in Islam, they re-categorized Muslims from "heretics" to something akin to "good pagans," comparing them to the non-Christian thinkers of the Western tradition. At this time, Europeans relied upon Muslim commentaries to understand Arabic books, absorbing native interpretations. Drawing on research in seven countries and six languages, this thesis explains how Europeans came to understand Islamic letters at a time of intensified exchange between Europeans and Muslim peoples. It combines fine-grained analysis of individual episodes with attention to the period's broader intellectual transformations. "Islamic Letters in the European Enlightenment" identifies a distinctive epoch in Western views of Islam: a window of intensive scholarly engagement and greater sympathy that lasted from the final third of the seventeenth century to the middle of the eighteenth century. The knowledge elaborated in this era did not prevent a turn to a disparaging view of Islam and its peoples in the second half of the eighteenth century; on the contrary, even Arabic scholars of that period came to share it. Perhaps for this reason, the intellectual history reconstructed here has suffered neglect. Yet the fruits of the labors reconstructed here informed Western views of Islam and its traditions into the twentieth century. The chapters examine in succession: the collection of Islamic manuscripts; the first European "encyclopaedia" of Islamic letters, by Barthélemy d'Herbelot; the sympathetic reinterpretation of Islam in the early Enlightenment; the the Qur'an translations of Ludovico Marracci and George Sale; the first translations of pre-Islamic Arabic poetry; the place of Islamic civilization in Enlightenment views of world history; and the role of Arabic scholarship in the conquest of Egypt in 1798.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:History

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