David Bertaina, Christian and Muslim Dialogues: The Religious Uses of a Literary Form in the Early Islamic Middle East

Article excerpt

David Bertaina, Christian and Muslim Dialogues: The Religious Uses of a Literary Form in the Early Islamic Middle East. Gorgias Eastern Christian Studies 29. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2011. Pp. 285. Paper.

Two Traditions, One Space: Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Dialogue. Edited by George C. Papademetriou. Boston, MA: Somerset Hall Press, 2011. Pp. 339. $34.95, paper.

Most monographs on Christian-Muslim dialogue seem unaware of the vast intellectual and cultural contribution of Eastern Christians. Often, the literature focuses on the hardship of Eastern Christians and their perilous demographic decline and misses their historical relevance. In two studies, Bertaina and Papademetriou take steps to remedy this situation by examining the complex and rich history of Eastern Christian and Muslim interfaith tradition. Both books attest that Eastern Christians' unsung and yet crucial intellectual heritage offers opportunities for a measure of Christian-Muslim rapprochement and a renewal of mutual respect. Also, the books demonstrate that, unlike their counterparts in the West, Oriental Christians have survived and even thrived under Islamic domination since the seventh century. Bertaina and Papademetriou would agree with Mahmoud Ayoub that "Islamic civilization should be properly regarded as Islamic-Eastern Christian Civilization."

With clarity, these books celebrate the religious, cultural, and intellectual achievement of the Arab, Syriac, Greek, and Coptic Christians. Bertaina bemoans the failure of the current historiography of religious dialogue to account for the continuity between early medieval Christian-Muslim dialogue and contemporary discourse. In his monograph, he shows that Eastern Christians who lived from the time of the prophet Muhammad to the Crusades made significant contributions to Christian-Muslim dialogue. Western Christians are impoverished without the knowledge of this intellectual heritage.

Further, Bertaina examines the tradition of literary and theological dialogue between Oriental Christians and Muslims from the pre-Islamic period to the eve of the Crusades. First, be explores "a wide range of textual encounters at various points of intersection and sites of conversation"; then he shows "the dynamism of this dialogue and resulting crosspollination. …