Interfaith Encounters: Religious Polemics from the Middle Ages to the Modern Period

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 October 2024 | Viewed by 2578

Special Issue Editor


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Guest Editor
Associate Professor, The Department of Jewish History, Ariel University, Ramat Ha-Golan St 65, Ariel 40700, Israel
Interests: historical thought; Jewish currents and movements; religious polemics; polemical literature; history of religion

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Religious polemics are a multifaceted phenomenon which can be defined as a discursive conflict, or a tool for discovering and disseminating “the truth,” motivated by a sense of mission. Their typology can be classified into strategies, methods, or arguments. A religious polemic manifests itself in literature intended for internal use or addressed to dispute opponents. It often includes the coercion of the opposite side to participate in public disputation, frequently ending in forced conversion, as we have encountered in medieval Christian–Jewish polemics. There are also examples of the voluntary participation of Jews, Muslims, and various Christian denominations in religious disputations, as in the case of radical Protestants in Poland. Religious polemics have been studied as part of research in theology, philosophy, sociology of religion, and history, with a focus on case studies and specific disputations or varieties of polemics.

This Special Issue is aimed at exploring religious polemics from the phenomenological standpoint, seeking to deepen our understanding of religious polemics in a wide cultural, historical, and social context. The articles will deal with a variety of religious polemics between monotheistic religions, sects, and denominations, as well as with polytheistic involvement in religious polemics. The chronological frame of the articles will encompass the early Middle Ages through to the 19th century. Articles presenting new methodological or comparative perspectives will be especially welcome. 

Scholars are invited to submit essays on specific and general topics:

  • Public disputation as social practice, its strategies, tactics, and tools; its role in the phenomenon of conversion;
  • The typology of the polemics’ argumentation (e.g., exegetical, philosophical, or historical);
  • Dynamics and changes in religious polemics through the lens of history;
  • Polemical literature: authors, aims, and target audiences;
  • Constructing the “religious other” through religious polemics;
  • Research on religious polemics—new perspectives and methodologies.

Proposed deadlines:

  • Abstract (about 200 words) submission deadline: 10 July 2023.

The abstracts are to be sent to the issue Editor, Professor Golda Akhiezer agolda@ariel.ac.il  or to the Religions Editorial Office religions@mdpi.com

  • Notification of abstract acceptance: 3 September 2023
  • Full manuscript deadline: 29 February 2024

Dr. Golda Akhiezer
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • religious polemics
  • public disputations
  • polemical literature
  • theology
  • methodology
  • typology
  • comparative religions

Published Papers (3 papers)

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Research

14 pages, 273 KiB  
Article
From Tillable Fields to Men’s Equal Partners: The Treatment of Women in Early Muslim–Christian Polemic
by Barbara Roggema
Religions 2024, 15(5), 555; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15050555 - 29 Apr 2024
Viewed by 525
Abstract
Even though women and questions of gender difference are not a core issue in medieval Eastern Christian–Muslim polemic, there are numerous arguments that go back and forth between Muslims and Christians that revolve around women. In the large corpus of polemical texts from [...] Read more.
Even though women and questions of gender difference are not a core issue in medieval Eastern Christian–Muslim polemic, there are numerous arguments that go back and forth between Muslims and Christians that revolve around women. In the large corpus of polemical texts from the Middle East between the 8th and the 13th centuries, it can be noted that criticism of the other religion involves pointing out illogicalities and absurdities in each other’s doctrines and rituals. Carefully constructed arguments against the claim to Divine endorsement of the faith of the other party are frequently interlaced with criticism of their alleged immoral behavior. Although women feature mostly in the emotive sections of the polemical compositions, there are also reasoned debates about the issue of gender equality in the eyes of God. The discussion of these texts here brings out a range of diverse ideas about women that function primarily as sources for subsidiary arguments against the religious other. At the same time, this study reveals that these arguments were not invented ad hoc. They show the interconnectedness of works within a corpus of polemical texts that spans five centuries. Full article
13 pages, 406 KiB  
Article
Naskh (“Abrogation”) in Muslim Anti-Jewish Polemic: The Treatise of Rashīd al-Dīn Hamadānī (1247–1318)
by Y. Tzvi Langermann
Religions 2024, 15(5), 547; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15050547 - 28 Apr 2024
Viewed by 471
Abstract
A strong case can be made that the concept of naskh, “abrogation” or “annulment”, was the most potent weapon in the arsenal of Muslim polemicists seeking to convert Jews (Burton‘s Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān is highly informative but deals almost exclusively with naskh [...] Read more.
A strong case can be made that the concept of naskh, “abrogation” or “annulment”, was the most potent weapon in the arsenal of Muslim polemicists seeking to convert Jews (Burton‘s Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān is highly informative but deals almost exclusively with naskh in its internal Islamic contexts, e.g., hermeneutics and legal theory). Naskh did not necessarily involve any rejection of Jewish scripture or tradition as fraudulent or corrupt. It rested on the simple premise, explicitly confirmed by the Qur’an, that the deity may alter or replace His legislation over the course of time. In the first part of this paper, I will briefly review the topic, adding some texts and observations that, to the best of my knowledge, have not appeared in the academic literature (comprehensively surveyed in Adang’s Muslim Writers on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible: From Ibn Rabban to Ibn Hazm, 1996; also in Adang and Schmidtke’s Polemics (Muslim-Jewish) in Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, 2010). The bulk of this paper will consist of a fairly detailed summary of an unpublished tract on naskh written by Rashīd al-Dīn Faḍlullāh Hamadānī (RD) (1247–1318), himself a Jewish convert to Islam and a monumental politician, cultural broker, historian, and author. Full article
21 pages, 331 KiB  
Article
All or Nothing: Polemicizing God and the Buddhist Void in the Jesuit Mission to East Asia
by James Matthew Baskind
Religions 2024, 15(4), 424; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel15040424 - 29 Mar 2024
Viewed by 659
Abstract
The Jesuit mission to East Asia highlights the polemical difficulties inherent in the process of introducing, translating, and creating a new theological paradigm within a host culture without a common religious worldview. Both Matteo Ricci in China and Ricci’s erstwhile teacher, Alessandro Valignano, [...] Read more.
The Jesuit mission to East Asia highlights the polemical difficulties inherent in the process of introducing, translating, and creating a new theological paradigm within a host culture without a common religious worldview. Both Matteo Ricci in China and Ricci’s erstwhile teacher, Alessandro Valignano, in Japan, both inveighed against Buddhism for positing a “void” as the Absolute rather than God. The East Asian Jesuit mission had an incomplete understanding of what emptiness/nothingness/void referred to until the native Japanese convert and former Zen monk, Fukansai Habian, took up the mantle as the Jesuit polemicist against native systems of thought, in particular, Buddhism. Whereas Ricci and Valignano attacked the “void” within the context of a negation of “something”, Habian correctly understood the void as akin to the pleroma, the fullness of possibility, and the creative principle, but used his more nuanced understanding as a polemical expedient to deny or negate all Buddhist doctrines as expressing nothingness (which he erroneously equates with the void), even such form-affirming schools as the Pure Land school with its clearly defined goal of a physical post-mortem Pure Land. The polemical paradigm engendered by this encounter also served as the starting point for Buddhism’s appearance in the Western imagination. This paper will make a comparative investigation of the polemical discourse between the Jesuits and Buddhists regarding the Absolute and demonstrate how this historical instance would have far-reaching consequences that have ongoing relevance regarding the interplay of Christian and Buddhist teachings. Full article

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: The Prophet Problem

Abstract: Certain recurring themes occur in polemics between the scriptural monotheisms. One of these revolves around prophecy and prophethood. Who is a “real” prophet, and who a “false prophet?” Scripture itself, which conveys the direct and unmediated will of God and is therefore a core authentification for the scriptural monotheisms, is conveyed through the medium of prophecy. Prophecy and prophethood represent a primary source for religious authority and truth, and as such, lie at the core of religious polemics. The prophet problem was already recognized in the Hebrew Bible. In addition to the beloved prophets, there were those who conveyed messages on the authority of false gods (1 Kings 18), and others who conveyed false messages on the authority of the real God, the God of Israel (Jer.23:25-26). Prophets on the payroll of kings could give bad advice with prophetic authority, and competing prophets could give contradictory messages, all on the authority of the same God of Israel (1Kings 22:1-25). The tension between “true” and “false” prophets continues in the relations between the scriptural monotheisms. Jews, for example, do not accept the authenticity of Jesus (who is identified in the NT as a prophet and who functions as one despite his title of messiah), and Jews and Christians do not accept the authenticity of Muhammad. But the rejection is uni-directional. Established religions reject new prophets, while new religions accept the prophets that lived before (but with certain qualifications). Each of the three classic scriptural monotheisms also declares an “end” to prophecy, but at different times. Yet despite these deadlines, each acknowledges that God could nevertheless send another prophet, leaving open the wild card for new prophecy, new revelation, and even new religion. This article will explore these and other trends associated with the problem of prophecy in religious polemics between the scriptural monotheisms.

Title: Christian anti-Islamic polemical motifs in Shimʿon Duran’s Qeshet u-magen

Abstract: In 1423, the Rabbi Shimʿon b. Ṣemaḥ Duran, who had fled his native Majorca after the anti-Jewish riots 1391 and settled in Algiers, wrote an anti-Islamic polemic titled Bow and Shield (Qeshet u-magen). Unlike his Jewish predecessors arguing against Islam, Duran did not defend the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic tradition, but attacked the rationality of Islam by scrutinizing the Qurʾānic teachings concerning God’s existence, theodicy, punishment or reward in the afterlife, and the Islamic concept of the inimitable linguistic perfection of the Qurʾān. Duran’s labelling of Islam as an irrational and materialistic religion and his depiction of the Qurʾān as a composition rife with confusion is a well-known topos of Christian anti-Islamic literature such as Ps. al-Kindi, Roger Bacon or Ramon Marti. This paper will discuss the motifs Duran appropriated from Christian anti-Islamic polemic in Bow and Shield as well as their possible sources. It will show that Duran’s polemical method is rooted in the specific cultural milieu of medieval Spain, where all three traditions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–intermingle and become entangled in the polemical genre.

Title: Speaking as an Ex-Christian: Erroneous Books and Christians' Lies

Abstract: This paper considers post-classical rabbinic use of impersonation in works that resemble in style the genre of the dialogues Adversus Iudaeos. The Book of Nestor the Priest (Sefer Nestor ha- Komer, c. 10th cent.), a dialogue between an ex-Christian convert to Judaism, called Nestor, and an unnamed Christian priest, is the first Jewish anti-Christian systematic attempt to discredit central Christian tenets such as the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, and the birth of Jesus as Godman from a virgin. The anonymous author speaks not merely as a newly converted Jew, but also as an ex-Christian priest with the authority of an inside informant. Throughout this work, Nestor characterizes Christian literature (primarily the New Testament and other Christian works) as “erroneous books,” Christians as liars, and Christian teachings as lies. By examining the contexts within which the author uses the phrase “erroneous books,” and juxtaposing it with similar uses of this phrase in the Babylonian Talmud with reference to the gospels and the Toledot Yeshu with reference to Jesus as the author of false books, this paper will examine Jewish categorization of knowledge and will argue that the anonymous author of the book of Nestor participates in a Jewish effort to discredit openly the legitimacy of Christian theological knowledge deploying the same tools as Christian Adversus Iudaeos dialogues authors.

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