Session 1: General introduction; Professor Giuseppe Cecere
Lesson n.1 will provide an overall view on history and representations of the Jewish presence in the Arab world, from pre-Islamic Hijaz to modern Middle East and North Africa. In this framework, special attention will be paid to narratives concerning Jews in Arabic preislamic literature, as well as to Shlomo Goitein’s notion of « Mediterranean society» and to some of the most recent historiographic trends on Jewish-Arab relations in pre-modern times (with special focus on works by Paul Fenton, David Littmann, Norman Stillman, Mark Cohen).
Session 2: Narratives on Others and Self; Professor Giuseppe Cecere
Lesson number two will focus on representations of « others » and « self » in Arabic Jewish, Christian and Islamic sources during the Middle Ages. This will allow to highlight processes of self-identity construction and definitions of « otherness » (and consequent « otherising » practices) produced by different religious communities living in one and the same space, with a wide array of possible solutions, ranging from discrimination to cooperation, from conflicts of memories to spiritual encounters. In this framework, special attention will be paid to medieval Egyptian society, especially in the Ayyubid and Mamluk times (late 12th to early 16th century), for several reasons: a) the crucial role plaid by Egypt in world history in that time, b) the extremely rich and varied, though puzzlingly fragmented, documents on Jewish social and spiritual life provided by the Cairo Genizah ; c) the activity of the great Jewish thinker Moshe Maimonides ; d) the existence of a unique phenomenon of ‘spiritual contact’ (between encounter or emulation/competition) known as « Jewish Sufism ».
Session 3: An Arab Jewish Utopia in the Twentieth Century? Exploring Pan-Semitism; Professor Mattia di Taranto
Professor Di Taranto will provide an insight into Pansemitism, a cultural phenomenon of the utmost importance for the history of Jewish thought as well as for the study of Arab-Jewish relations in the first half of the 20th century. In the light of growing anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe at the turn of the century, many Jewish intellectuals began to dispute the former Europeanoriented model and to develop a pessimistic view of European civilization, adopting an “Orientoriented” Weltanschauung in which the Semitic origins of the Jewish people were greatly emphasized. It is particularly interesting for our analysis to underline how the claim of the “ethnic” bond and the cultural proximity between the two “Semitic brothers” – namely Arabs and Jews – played a pivotal role in the works of a noteworthy number of thinkers. A significant example in this respect is represented by the writer and reporter Eugen Hoeflich (i.e. Moshe Ya’akov ben-Gavriel, 1891-1965): in his magnum opus, Die Pforte des Ostens (The Gate of the East, 1923), he compares and contrasts Western world (Europe and America) and Asia, the latter symbolizing all values of spirituality, morality, harmony with nature) on which society was supposed to be founded.
Session 4: Rediscovering Arab Jews: From Conflict of Memories to Mutual Nostalgia?; Professor Giuseppe Cecere
Lesson number four will provide an overview on literary and artistic production concerning the history of the Arab Jews in recent decades. The selected material analysed in this lesson will range from memorial and autobiographical writing by Jewish authors born in Arab countries to a number of works produced by Muslim intellectuals and artists in the last few years and expressing complex and often most tolerant attitudes towards a “presence” that is felt and presented as part and parcel of the authors’ respective national communities as well as of the Arab world as a whole, far from negative stereotypes often marking the « discourse on Jews » on both sides of the Mediterranean.