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What Can Zoroastrian Sources Tell Us About Early Islamic History?

  • Christian Sahner
Thursday 20 April 2017
WHAT's NEW!? Spring Lecture Series
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

What Can Zoroastrian Sources Tell Us About Early Islamic History?

Over the past forty years, the field of early Islamic history has been transformed by two broad trends: first, the use of non-Muslim sources to enhance, verify, and critique the information contained in mainstream Muslim texts; and second, a growing interest in the relationship between the early Muslims and the religious communities they encountered across the late antique Middle East. These changes have produced fresh insights into the history of Christians and Jews in particular, as well as the texts they composed.

The same cannot be said, however, of the Zoroastrians, members of the former state religion in Iran, whose early contacts with the Muslims remain somewhat opaque. This is especially striking given the large body of literature they left behind, much of which was written or redacted in the early Abbasid period. What can scholars of Islamic history learn from this relatively untapped corpus of Middle Persian sources? What do these texts reveal about early interactions between Muslims and Zoroastrians? How does this literature relate to the writings of other non-Muslims at the time, especially Christians?

About Christian Sahner

Dr. Christian Sahner is a historian of the Middle East and a research fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. His work deals with the transition from Late Antiquity to the Islamic Middle Ages, relations between Muslims and Christians, and the history of Syria and Iran. He is the author of "Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present" (Oxford/Hurst, 2014), a blend of history, memoir, and reportage from his time in the Levant before and after the Syrian Civil War. He is completing a second book entitled, "Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World." It is the first scholarly study of how violence contributed to the spread of Islam among the Christian communities of the early medieval Middle East, as well as how Christians adopted the mentality of a minority through memories of violence. The book is based on his doctoral thesis, which received the Malcolm H. Kerr Award for best dissertation in the humanities from the Middle East Studies Association.

Christian Sahner

His next project explores the rise of Islam in early medieval Iran and contacts among Muslims, Zoroastrians, and Christians. He writes frequently about the history and culture of the Middle East for The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.

Born in New York City, he received an A.B. from Princeton University, an M.Phil from the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Ph.D. also from Princeton, where he studied under historians Peter Brown and Michael Cook.

This lecture is part of the WHAT'S NEW?! Spring Lecture Series.

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