CULTURES IN CONFLICT by Bernard Lewis

CULTURES IN CONFLICT

Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Age of Discovery

KIRKUS REVIEW

In three essays based on lectures, Lewis provides an engaging overview of the cultural and political clash between Christian Europe and the Islamic world from the late 15th to the early 19th centuries. Lewis (Near Eastern Studies/Princeton Univ.; Islam and the West, 1993, etc.) takes as his starting point 1492, the year not only of Columbus's discovery of the "New World" but also of Catholic Spain's victory over Islam, after four centuries of struggle, on the Iberian Peninsula. Six months later, Ferdinand and Isabella expelled Spain's Jews, with profound repercussions for all three monotheistic civilizations. Though banished from Western Europe, it wasn't until 1683 that Muslim armies, under the flag of the Ottoman Empire, were repulsed from Vienna for the last time. In briefly tracing the millennium-long clash, Lewis demonstrates how the Christian and Islamic cultures sometimes mirrored each other, noting, for example, that the Crusade resembles a jihad and that the European Renaissance was preceded about 500 years earlier by a great Muslim cultural flowering. He writes far more briefly of Judaism, but here, too, he illuminates, as in his clear discussion of the economic and political forces that drove the Ottoman Empire to welcome the Jews expelled from Spain. Lewis's multilayered analysis of why the West ultimately gained the upper hand over the Islamic world ranges broadly from the technological (the West used gunpowder, which the Muslim world largely scorned) to the linguistic (Western Europe developed written vernaculars from Latin, which accelerated receptivity to cultural change, while the Islamic world retained the beautiful, but somewhat stilted, style of classical Arabic well into the modern era). The book is marred only by a closing, overstated paean to Western civilization, in which Lewis claims that Western thinkers alone in human history have manifested intense curiosity about cultures other than their own. Still, despite its tantalizing brevity, an elegant book.
Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0195102835
Page count: 120pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994




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