By Kocku von Stuckrad
Journal of Religion in Europe, Vol. 1:1 (2008)
Abstract: This article describes the discipline of astrology as an example of manifold interreligious contacts and transfers in the Middle Ages. Over against an image of the Middle Ages as being predominantly Christian and striving to violently suppress science, philosophy, and astrology, it is shown that in fact Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities shared common interests and participated in an ongoing communication, even if in polemical differentiation. The case of astrology also illuminates the intellectual ties between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, which are much stronger than traditional historiography would like to portray them as.
Introduction: With regard to the Middle Ages, a number of prejudices are still widespread. The first is apparent in the characterization of the era as a ‘middle age,’ for this suggests that this was a time of transition or incubation before a more positively valued ‘modern age,’ which through constant progress led to the achievements of the present, and that only with the Renaissance did Europe supposedly awaken from the deep slumber of the Middle Ages, recalled the sciences and culture of the ancient world, shook off its magical and mystical habits of thought, and finally blossomed in the Enlightenment.
This suggestive historical construction distorts the real meaning of the periods following antiquity. It is true that many Christian theologians in Rome and Byzantium conducted a fierce battle against the ancient cultures of knowledge, but generalizations can be misleading. On closer examination, one finds great differences from region to region and from ruler to ruler. Quite a few Christian potentates demonstrated an unbroken interest in fostering these sciences, and it was the monastic schools of the Middle Ages that busied themselves with the classical texts of philosophy and science. Hence, there are scholars who even talk of a ‘medieval enlightenment.’ The second prejudice is the assumption that the West is Christian. This idea has hindered the perception of Europe as a region of religious and cultural pluralism right up to the present, and still remains the core of a rhetorical ‘European identity,’ to be defended against the Islamic East, with all its implications for European Muslims today.