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Emperor Manuel Ⅱ Palaiologos and Islam: Political and Theological Aspects of his Attitudes toward Islam

Ksenia I. Lobovikova, Russian Federal Professional Pedagogical University, Ekaterinburg, Summer Fellow 2006

The Byzantine emperor Manuel Ⅱ Palaiologos was a remarkable expert on Islam and polemist with Muslims in the late Byzantine period. His treatises against Muslims are the most extensive in the history of Byzantine polemic against Islam. E. Trapp and T. Khoury edited a part of the emperor’s polemical legacy, while K. Förstel edited the whole series of his treatises against Islam, consisting of twenty-six dialogues with a Muslim about Christianity and Islam. Unfortunately, with the exception of one article of S. Reinert, there are no studies directly dedicated to these treatises of Manuel.

At Dumbarton Oaks, I focused on the investigation of the emperor’s polemical works in the context of both the religious and political life of his epoch. Thus, the main aim of my project was to study Manuel’s treatises against Islam and other sources that contain information on the emperor’s perception of the contemporary political situation. Some of Manuel’s letters, for example, describe the campaign of Bayezid Ⅰ in Anatolia and the process of nomadization of Asia Minor. I have integrated also into my research Manuel’s funeral oration for his brother Theodore.

My research reveals that the treatises of the emperor summed up the entire previous polemical orthodox tradition against Islam in Byzantium. Manuel knew well the polemical works of his predecessors and especially the treatises of his grandfather John Ⅵ Kantakouzenos. Through him, Manuel had access to the treatises of the Florentine Dominican monk Ricaldus de Monte-Croce. My research has also shown that as writer and polemist Manuel did not go beyond the framework of Byzantine literary and theological tradition. Many Byzantine polemists with Islam recognized with regret that any attempt to convert Muslims was destined to fail. Manuel Palaiologos also wrote with sorrow that Muslims did not abandon their faith even when their arguments were refuted as false. He was convinced of the senselessness of attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity.

My intention was to appraise the level of his competency in Islamic doctrine and earlier Byzantine interpretations of Islam. In this sense, the writings of Manuel Ⅱ are interesting as representing the highest level of the knowledge of Islam during the Byzantine epoch.

The research I have been conducting is necessary to define the role and the importance of the anti-Islamic writings of Manuel Palaiologos in the history of late Byzantine religious philosophy. Moreover, study of the ideas of Manuel Ⅱ Palaiologos should prove helpful for better understanding of the course and content of interconfessional dialogue in general. The results of my research will be published in the form of a series of articles.