Prof. Dr. Petra Sijpesteijn (Arabic Language and Culture)

ERC, starters grant
The Formation of Islam: The View from Below (2009-2012)
The FOI project is to write a history of the formation of Islam using the vastly important but largely neglected papyri from Egypt. Until the introduction of paper in the 10th c., papyrus was the Mediterranean world's primary writing material. Thousands of papyrus documents survive, preserving a minutely detailed transcription of daily life, as well as the only contemporary records of Islam's rise and first wave of conquests. http://foi.leidenuniv.nl

NWO, internationalisation humanities (2009-2012)
Late Antiquity and Early Islam: Continuity and Change in the Mediterranean 

This project, which is being be carried out in close cooperation with the universities of Oxford (contact: Prof. Robert Hoyland) and Princeton (contact: Prof. John F. Haldon) and the UMR 8167 (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, CNRS, University Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV, University Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris I and École Pratique des Hautes Études, contact: Prof. Annliese Nef), explores the dynamic transitional period from late antiquity to early Islam in the Mediterranean basin (sixth to tenth centuries).

The disintegration of the Roman Empire in the seventh century set in train some of the most profound and long-lasting historical changes that the Mediterranean has ever witnessed. While the Frankish and Byzantine empires seem to be dutiful legatees of the Roman heritage, the Arabs, by contrast, appear to remake their Romanised territories with a culture and religion formed in the vacuum of the Arabian Peninsula, far away from the villas and cities that symbolised Roman civilisation. Severing its ties with the two other successor states thus left the Islamic empire free to follow its own, somewhat lonely itinerary. But this view is based on several fundamental misconceptions. Their diverging paths come less from intrinsic differences than from the dislocations attendant on territorial expansions and contradictions, the gradual reorganisation of economic and social structures, and the interaction with subject populations.

This project examines the Mediterranean basin during these four centuries as a whole, looking for common experiences, comparable historical processes and divergences. The project giving geographical and chronological limits to this collective program, three topics have been chosen that promise to yield especially fruitful results from such a comparative and large-scale approach. Each topic will be the subject of a roundtable meeting to which scholars from the above mentioned institutions will be invited to speak on a specific theme or subject from their own specialist background. The resulting publications will aim in this way to offer a full and focused approach, filling numerous lacunas in our knowledge of this period.

The first topic “Authority and control in the countryside” will be explored during the first roundtable meeting in Leiden University organised by Prof. Petra M. Sijpesteijn and Marie Legendre (September 13-19, 2010) and will deal with the organization of the countryside, its connection to urban centers, and the extent of control from the ruling centre over rural areas. Particular interest will be devoted to the functioning of monasteries, commercial centers and large estates, the identification of alternative centers of power and agents, and the role of economy, taxation and trade.

Program: Authority and control in the countryside

The second topic “Religious minorities and authorities” will be discussed in 2011, in Oxford university (organised by Prof. Robert Hoyland), focusing on the position of religious minorities in empires, the power of religious authority, the interdependence of religious and worldly rulers and how this affected the larger constituencies of believers. The third roundtable meeting will concentrate on “Political legitimacies between Late Antiquity and Early Islam” and take place in Paris at the Sorbonne in 2012 (organized by Annliese Nef).

The project will result in three cooperative publications based on the papers presented at the three meetings.

For further information, please contact Marie Legendre: m.a.l.legendre@hum.leidenuniv.nl

Last Modified: 30-03-2011