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Between Religion and Violence in Medieval Sicily
By Charles Dalli
Historicizing Religion: Critical Approaches to Contemporary Concerns, edited by Bojan Borstner et al. (Pisa, 2010)
Abstract: In the light of contemporary world events, historical scholarship has increasingly focused on the various dimensions of religion and violence in different contexts. In the traditional rendering of pre-modern history, the role of violence seemed to mark the major turning points in the making and unmaking of past societies, and violent behaviour and ideology predominated a world view pivoted on the law of survival of the fittest. The purported nexus between religious belief and violent practice may be studied in the case of medieval Sicily, an island which exchanged hands between three dominant civilizations in the Mediterranean in the course of the medieval millennium. The relationship between religion and violence marked some of the defining moments of medieval Sicilian history. In this chapter, the relationship between the two phenomena is examined against the backdrop of the history of events, but also in the light of recent discussions of social and economic developments in the island kingdom. After providing a historical overview, religious realities are discussed in relation to the various time periods. There follows a discussion of two traumatic developments in the island’s history, namely the end of Islam and Judaism in the 13th and 15th centuries respectively. Some representative historiographical positions are discussed, with a view to contextualizing Sicily in the wider discussion on religion and violence in European history.