Recovering the Role of Christians in the History of the Middle East, Princeton University, May 6–7, 2016
Although we often think of the Middle East as being the center of a “Muslim World,” Christians constituted the majority of the population throughout much of the pre-modern period. In fact, scholars speculate that it was only during the Crusades – a full six hundred years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad – that the region may have finally crossed the threshold of a Muslim demographic majority. Even after this, Christians existed in large numbers throughout Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq, playing important roles in the economic, political, and cultural life of the region.
Despite this, scholars often treat Christians as marginal actors in the history of the Middle East. The impression often derives from the assumption that they were merely dhimmis – protected and subordinate members of Muslim-ruled societies – as if this this legal category had a direct bearing on social history. But seeing Middle Eastern Christians in this way not only strips them of historical agency; it also leads scholars to sometimes equate the history of the region with the history of the Muslim community that governed it, rather than of the diverse society that flourished alongside it.
This workshop convenes a distinguished group of historians – with expertise ranging from the early Islamic to the late Ottoman periods – to reconsider Middle Eastern history through the lens of Christian sources, experiences, institutions, and individuals. In what manner can recovering the neglected or ignored Christian layers of the region’s past either enrich or alter established narratives in the field?