Overlapping Geographies: Monasteries and Rural Society in Early Islamic Iraq
Jeffrey Haines (Ph.D Candidate in the History Department at the University of Washington, Seattle)
June 18, 2019 6:00 pm (c.t.), Universität Hamburg, Edmund-Siemers-Allee 1, AS-Saal, 20146 Hamburg
Abstract: The early Islamic Empire’s policy of religious tolerance meant that Christians, Sabians, Jews and others continued to constitute majority populations of entire regions for centuries after the initial conquest. This was particularly true of the hills north of Mosul, where the rugged terrain and an abundance of Christian monasteries created a rich literary tradition focused on monastic rather than urban centers. This alternative tradition gives a glimpse into the world of the Islamic countryside and its everyday affairs, far from the concerns of cities and courts.
Using a series of East Syrian hagiographies written between the 7th and the 10th century AD (1st-4th century AH), this paper will reconstruct some of the ways that rural Christian populations imagined their place in the early Islamic world. Rather than depicting themselves as merely the outlying hinterlands of cities like Mosul and Baghdad, the authors of these hagiographies consistently described themselves squarely at the heart of several overlapping networks – local, sacred, and ecclesiastical – demonstrating both how lowland cities exerted a pull on groups in the countryside and how those groups themselves contextualized and reinterpreted that influence.
Jeffrey Haines is a Ph.D Candidate in the History Department at the University of Washington, Seattle. His research project, titled: Mosul’s Hinterland: Monastery and Village in Early Islamic Iraq and Anatolia, uses Syriac monastic histories to examine the relationship between rural communities, spiritual centers, and the broader Islamic world.