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From “Saracen scourge” to “terrible Turk”: medieval, renaissance, and enlightenment images of the “Other” in the narrative construction of “Europe”

From “Saracen scourge” to “terrible Turk”: medieval, renaissance, and enlightenment images of the “Other” in the narrative construction of “Europe”

By Paul T. Levine

PhD Dissertation, University of Southern California, 2007

Abstract: This dissertation examines medieval Christian images of Muslims and their influence on later European attitudes toward Islam and Turks. It elaborates a theory of collective identity as the dramatic or theatrical performance of a socially constructed collective Self that can be analyzed in three dimensions. The diachronic, or temporal, dimension is captured in the notions of historical meta-narratives and scripts. The two synchronic, or atemporal, dimensions are those of social space — anchored in the concepts of images and role-relationships — and physical space — further divisible into two ways of attaching importance to the physical setting for a given community. The empirical chapters of the dissertation examine a number of significant historical periods and cases. Two chapters look at Eastern and Latin Christendom from the Early to the High Middle Ages, two further chapters contain case studies of the writings of Martin Luther and Voltaire, and the last empirical chapter is a case study of debates in the European Parliament during the 1990s and early years of the 21st century. A concluding disscussion considers similarities and differences in how Turks and/or Saracens were represented in different epochs. The thesis argues that the generally hostile depictions of Muslims found in medieval writings on theology, historiography, and politics were part of struggles over the construction of a common Christian identity, upon which a secular European identity was eventually constructed. It further aims to illustrate how our understanding of the European Union’s ambivalent posture toward Turkey can be advanced as a result of this historical investigation.

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