Quran studies in Europe

Ten million euros to discover the history of Islam in Europe

In Europe, the Quran studies have begun to attract great attention in recent years. Many academics and researchers have published very interesting articles about Quran. A new Quran survey with a budget of € 10 million is now underway. The center of this work will be Spain.

The Madrilenian researcher is leading an unprecedented international project in Spain that will document the spread of the Quran in Christian territories.

“It says a lot about a society’s treatment of its minorities,” says Mercedes García-Arenal (Madrid, 1950). This renowned historian has spent years studying relations between Judaism, Islam and Christianity. “Better said, relations between Jews, Muslims and Christians,” he says. He is interested in the moments and places of the past in which one of these groups was a minority compared to the others. Given García-Arenal’s efforts to focus on the actors of history, it is curious that his next major research project, the only one in Spain, has benefited this year from nearly 10 million euros from the European Union. the first of these features, which is given to the Spanish humanities, will focus on the study of Quran, a sacred text.

In fact, the Quran is the tool with which García-Arenal and his companions seek to address the different religious (and antireligious) factions that have occupied Europe in the last millennium, and especially the interactions of these groups. The work they project, called the European Quran, will consist of a six-year investigation that will document the dissemination, interpretations, translations and uses of the book of Islam revealed in Europe, from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. Its purpose is to discover to what extent this text is embedded, as a symbol of an extraterrestrial people, in the intellectual and cultural history of the West on this side of the Atlantic. “More than what is now known or even suspected”, that is the hypothesis in which García-Arenal works.

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded this bold initiative one of the prestigious Synergy grants, its most important support by endowment and requirement, at the request of an international and multidisciplinary team, rarely outside the medical sciences or natural. During the last call, 27 projects were accepted, out of about 300 applications. García-Arenal is the only one to be led since This is also the first time that the Spanish humanities receive one of the many Synergy scholarships.

García-Arenal works at the Center for Humanities and Social Sciences of the CSIC and collaborates with Roberto Tottoli of the Oriental University Institute of Naples (Italy), Jan Loop of the University of Kent (United Kingdom) and John Tolan. , University of Nantes (France). The first thing they will do, with their respective research teams, is to create a geolocated database of all relevant Quranic manuscripts, translations and texts found in Europe.

The database, which will be available in open access (free), is the flagship tool of the project, with which multiple surveys will be conducted. But the team is part of the knowledge already accumulated during the years of study. They know, for example, that the first Latin translations of the Quran date from the twelfth century and are used by Franciscan monks and Dominicans to argue against Islam. “They tried to indoctrinate Muslims and convert them … to convince them that the Quran contains lies or contradictions,” says García-Arenal.

However, over the following centuries, this use of the Quran in Europe has been sidelined or totally lost. It highlights the reappearance of the text in polemics between Christian factions, and later in the beginnings of secularization, brandished by atheists and agnostics as proof of a monotheism less dogmatic than Christianity. “The Protestant Reformation has resulted in extraordinary philological work and translators,” García-Arenal said. “By denying the authority of the church, the biblical text becomes of paramount importance in Protestant Europe. [Protestants] believe in the possibility that some ancient texts of the Quran contain apocryphal biblical passages or different from the composition of the Bible. ”

The European Quran puts a magnifying glass at these moments of history by identifying the European axes of learning, translation and printing in Arabic. “We are interested in seeing who paid the translators and how they did some Quran passages saying things they were interested in saying.” To carry out this work, García-Arenal and his colleagues will analyze dozens, even hundreds of historical manuscripts: Glossy, Illustrated, Translated, Printed and Aljamiados European Qurans (written in Spanish with Arabic alphabet). They will present to the public part of this great collection through confirmed exhibitions at the British Museum (London), the Vatican Apostolic Library (Rome) and possibly Budapest (Hungary) and the National Library of Madrid.

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