Known to Jews, Muslims, and Christians by three different names – Sefarad, al-Andalus, and Hispania, respectively – the Iberian Peninsula has been a center of fertile intellectual, cultural and spiritual production for multiple religious traditions.
In his new book “Iberian Moorings,” Ross Brann, Milton R. Konvitz Professor of Judeo-Islamic Studies and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, compares the histories of the Jewish and Muslim traditions in the Iberian Peninsula between the tenth and thirteenth centuries, tracing how Islamic al-Andalus and Jewish Sefarad were invested with special political, cultural and historical significance across the Middle Ages.
For centuries, Brann wrote, scholars have celebrated the “Islamic Spain” of the medieval period and a “Golden Age of the Jews of Spain” during the same time.
“They designated al-Andalus or Sefarad as a place where exceptional social and religious tolerance prevailed and produced far-reaching intellectual and cultural achievement,” Brann wrote. “Al-Andalus and Sefarad have long since metabolized and come to constitute tropes of culture with histories of their own, fertilized and constructed by the interface of memory and the history constructed from it, the literary imagination and geographical desire. The tropes persisted as powerful and comforting, if nostalgic, signs of Andalusi-ness and Sefardi-ness, even when al-Andalus and Sefarad were no more.”
The Muslim polity of al-Andalus ended and the Jews, a minority population, were expelled from Spain in 1492 by royal charter. The same year, Christopher Columbus sailed west.