Book Announcement:  A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain (Chris Lowney)

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date 2006

Book Announcement:  A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain (Chris Lowney)


Shortly after bombs shredded four Madrid commuter trains and killed two hundred people last March, Muslim terrorists justified their gruesome attack as “settling old accounts against Spain, the crusaders.” They were recalling bloody medieval centuries when Spain suffered Crusade and jihad as Muslims and Christians wrestled to control the Iberian Peninsula. But that’s only part of the story. In A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment, Chris Lowney shows Muslims, Christians, and Jews rubbing shoulders peacefully in tiny Spanish villages, adopting each other’s language, customs, and learning, creating a golden age for each faith, and pioneering innovations that revolutionized the West.

Spain’s diverse society introduced the western world to paper, our Hindu-Arabic number system, advanced irrigation, cotton and citrus, architectural glory, and medical discoveries. While Europeans elsewhere wallowed in medieval squalor and ignorance, Spain flourished as the continent’s commercial and cultural center. No less astonishing than Spain’s material glories was the simple fact that her Muslims, Christians, and Jews often lived and worked side-by-side, bestowing tolerance and freedom of worship on religious minorities. These Muslims, Christians, and Jews, co-existing successfully for the first time ever in mainland Europe, offer wisdom, hope, and lessons learned to our modern age struggling to create a peaceful, constructive common society.

A Vanished World begins with Muslim invasion of Spain in 711 and ends with the world-changing year of 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella dispatched Columbus to the New World, vanquished Spain’s last Muslim kingdom, and crowned the Spanish Inquisition’s bitter work by forcing Jews to convert or emigrate. The ‘era of the three religions’ dissolved into religious intolerance that reverberates to the present day and still divides our world, underscoring the imperative to learn from our shared past in order to protect our future. Author Chris Lowney questions why three religions that worship the same God and deeply respect human dignity have so often turned on each other, and he draws from Spain’s stories of hate and hope to show how only profound conversion of attitude can save humanity from the thicket of religious enmity that ultimately doomed Spain’s unique civilization.


From Publishers Weekly (A starred review)

“This bold and compassionate articulation of medieval Spanish history, with its complex interactions among Jews, Muslims and Christians, speaks directly to contemporary international crises. Lowney (Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World) is more explicit in providing ethical lessons than Maria Rosa Menocal in Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, but his convictions are gently woven into the narrative and are never didactic. Lowney tells the tale of coexistence, and its eventual unraveling, with detail, delicacy and verve, avoiding a romanticized exaggeration of tolerance. He is hardheaded about the motives that underlay an acceptance of religious diversity in medieval Iberia, and is acutely aware of the period’s dark ironies: for instance, Muslim Granada survived by selling out its coreligionists in Seville, and Alfonso the Wise had a schizophrenic relationship with Spanish Jews. Lowney’s account reflects a good deal of recent scholarship and avoids stereotypical recasting of the Black Legend; students of medieval history will learn much from Lowney’s fresh perspective. But he remains sensitive to the indissoluble pain that accompanied the disasters of the late Middle Ages. This engrossing and illuminating book deserves the attention of a wide public.”

Advance praise for A Vanished World:

““In a world of religious extremism and global terrorism, Chris Lowney’s A Vanished World is an important reminder of the West’s first multireligious society under Muslim rule in multicultural Spain. Lowney masterfully tells this engaging and compelling story of a time when Muslims, Christians, and Jews co-existed and flourished religiously, intellectually and civilizationally.”
– John L. Esposito, University Professor and Founding Director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University

“Chris Lowney has written a meaningful book about interfaith cooperation and interfaith antagonism in medieval Spain. While it points to the many failures of those days, it also suggests important triumphs of the human spirit. Can we learn from this story and shape a better, more harmonious world? Can we afford not to learn from this story?”
– Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel, Congregation Shearith Israel, The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York City

“A Vanished World provides a walking journey inside the astonishing history of Medieval Spain’s life for Muslims, Christians and Jews. Chris Lowney gives images of the rise and falls of empires, religious tolerance and internal conflicts. A fascinating historical lesson about an era that reflects the best and the worst of humanity’s attempts to co-exist.”
– Fajri Ansari, President of the Network of Religious Communities and Resident Imam of Masjid Nu’Man, Buffalo, NY

“A lively tour of ‘the land of three religions,’ from the Moorish conquest to Columbus. This tale of ‘collaboration and collision,’ told with flair and in strong narrative, often in the words of the protagonists, will enlighten and enchant!”
– Rev. Robert I. Burns, SJ, author of Islam Under the Crusaders; Professor of Medieval History, UCLA

“Chris Lowney has written an illuminating reflection on a fascinating land of three religions. Jostling for recognition and influence, Christians, Jews, and Muslims at times coexisted peacefully, but at other times persecuted or waged war against one another. In today’s world when the three religions are again in conflict, the reader can profit from the lessons of tolerance and intolerance characteristic of that bygone era.”
– Joseph F. O’Callaghan, author of A History of Medieval Spain; Professor emeritus , Fordham University

The most fascinating aspect of Chris Lowney’s story is his thesis that the three great religions profited from the ability to tolerate and accept one another. This historical tract reads like a good novel, but more importantly, gives us hope that, far from being a potential disaster, the mixing of peoples and traditions from the Middle East and the West can bring us closer to an age of true peace and cooperation.”
– Fr. Michael Garanzini, President, Loyola University-Chicago

“This story, refreshingly and sensitively told by Lowney, has mounting relevance for present interreligious times. Christians, Muslims, and Jews collaborated and collided in medieval Spain, frequently chose the practical convenience of cooperation and even, on a few occasions, expressed a golden rule of sharing the same desired good with neighbors.”
– John Borelli, Special Assistant to the President for Interreligious Initiatives, Georgetown University

“A very well researched and refreshing look at medieval Spain written with care and compassion of a highly knowledgeable author and scholar. Combining deep insight and sophisticated analysis, Chris Lowney has brought out the institutional as well as the inner dimensions of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, during that historic period. This book is a must reading for the students of history and all those of Judeo-Christain-Islamic tradition who care about the seething cauldron of conflicting ideologies and sectarianism of our contemporary world.”
– Khalid J. Qazi, MD, Member Board of Directors, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Los Angeles

Chris Lowney’s site

Product Details
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Free Press (March 29, 2005)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0743243595
ISBN-13: 978-0743243599

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