Clash of Civilizations

hizir kilisesi

‘Clash of civilizations’ in late medieval Southwest Asia: Interfaith transference of sacred sites and shrines in Anatolia/Thrace and the Indian subcontinent

Anatolia/Thrace and the Indian subcontinent were both continuously active zones of ghaza (war for the faith) in the fringes of the Southwest Asian landmass that was ruled by Turco-Mongol Muslim dynasties circa 1100–1500. Previous scholarship has examined various facets of the Muslim conquerors’ encounters with the dominant religions of these regions (Eastern Christianity in Anatolia and Thrace, and Hinduism and Jainism in the Indian subcontinent), but a thorough examination in either case has not been attempted and informed comparisons are rare. This project, bearing in mind the interconnected nature of late medieval Eurasia, attempts a thorough and comparative study of these two geographical entities – both of them realms of expansion of the ‘abode of Islam’ into ‘infidel’ territory – with a focus on the conversion and cohabitation of sacred sites.

A number of sites in Anatolia, Thrace and the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent are examined in the light of late medieval narratives of conversion and cohabitation of religious sites. In these multilingual realms with significant political fragmentation, discourses of religious difference were necessarily multiple and interacted with those of ghazaand jihad in various ways. These interactions can hardly be explained with a single blanket concept proposed for other contexts  – be it the ‘clash of civilizations’ that Huntington anticipated for the post-1990s world order or the quixotic ideal of medieval Iberianconvivencia, or anything in between. Nonetheless, religious fault lines were real, and textual sources attest to unceasing cycles of contestation and negotiation around sacred sites, leading to violent clashes in a few cases while reaching in many others a modus vivendi. This project aims to uncover, on the one hand, the multitude of late medieval discourses alongside the better-known discourses concerning ghazaand jihad, and on the other hand, what actually happened on the ground, i.e. to what extent practice was defined by ideology.

The first stage of research, funded by the University’s John Fell Fund, currently focuses on the interfaith cohabitation of sites associated with the prophet/saint Khidr in Anatolia and India. Contemporary texts from both realms are gathered in a database and examined, with the aim of uncovering the cultural framework of the conversion of sites or their cohabitation and visitation by practitioners of different faiths.

Project team:
Zeynep Yurekli, project leader
Daniel Burt, IT
Cailah Jackson, research assistant
Yeliz Teber, research assistant
Kristyna Rendlova, research assistant