Convivencia - Iberian to Global Dynamics, 500-1750

Researchers - Who are we? | Interdisziplinary Research Cooperation  

Anthropological Contributions I | Anthropological Contributions II | Anthropological Contributions III | Publications on Convivencia

Researchers - Who are we?

The Convivencia Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology started its activities in January 2016. The group is led Günther Schlee and has two full-time researchers. Dr. Brian Campbell is a Maltese post-doctoral researcher interested in the politics of convivencia and mixed-marriage in Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco. Mark Sweha is an Egyptian PhD Candidate interested in the impact of the Islamic resurgence on the inter-confessional Convivencia in Syria and Iraq.

Interdisciplinary Research Cooperation with

Thomas Duve, Max Planck Institute for European Legal History | Gerhard Wolf, the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max Planck Institute | Jürgen Renn, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science | David Nirenberg (Chicago University) | Günther Schlee, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology


‘Convivencia: Iberian to Global Dynamics, 500-1750’ is a multidisciplinary project jointly conducted by the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology (director: Günther Schlee),  the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History (MPIeR) (director: Thomas Duve), the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max Planck Institute (director: Gerhard Wolf) and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (director: Jürgen Renn).  The project also boasts the participation of David Nirenberg (Chicago University).

This research project takes the concept of convivencia as its main object of study. Popularised by the Spanish revisionist historian Americo Castro in 1948, convivencia originally referred to the processes syncretism (i.e. exchange, fusion) and antagonism (e.g. hostility, differentiation) between Christians, Jews and Muslims living in medieval Iberia, which gradually produced Spanish identity and character. Since then, the study of convivencia has evolved into a rich debate as to how and why different religious, ethnic and cultural groups come to come to live peacefully together, and the extent to which tolerance paradoxically requires the political-economic domination of minorities and occasional outbursts of conflict and violence.

Anthropological contributions to Convivencia 1:

The Convivencia Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology contributes to the historical, legal and artistic debates around and around convivencia by testing and building understandings of coexistence in the light of ethnographic accounts of how societies manage difference.

We are particularly interested in places where local actors explicitly use discourses of convivencia to creatively reconcile the increasingly heterogeneous and multicultural contexts in which they live with deeply-entrenched views on national identity and neighborhood belonging. Attempts to see difference as tolerable or even productive generally require radical revisions of national and local histories, memories, rituals and myths to accommodate plurality and heterogeneity. In some cases, the government of diversity also encourages the formalization of different communities into formal organizations which lobby the government political or economic resources.

Thus, for example, the Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus that call the small Spanish enclave of Ceuta home are using the idea of convivencia to manage mounting ethno-religious tensions by prying apart old monocultural ideas of national identity and instead claim that there are various, equally valid ways, of being Spanish. This presentation of Ceuta - to itself and to outsiders - as a melting pot of cultures (crisol de culturas), is backed up by a complex economy of public ritual and state sponsorship, where different religious communities receive ample funding if they open their rituals (e.g. Diwali, Eid el-Fitr) to participation by Ceutans from other religious groups in an attempt to display, celebrate and further foster inter-communal trust and cooperation. Nonetheless, suspicions remain by those Christian and Muslim actors who insist that these public displays of/for convivencia simply distract from the socio-economic inequalities of the enclave, which ought to be the basis of a ‘real convivencia.’ In the Andalusian and port-cities of mainland Spain, by contrast, the discourse of convivencia is spearheaded by liberal non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to diffuse fears of and stereotypes about Moroccan and African migrant others. As in Ceuta, these NGOs believe that a peaceful multicultural society of convivencia is possible, mainly because Spain has already done so in its medieval, Muslim past.

The project also dedicates itself to comparing the Iberian context with other cases of convivencia in the Mediterranean and the Near East. These not only include ethnographic exploration of the great cosmopolitan port cities of the region, but also a political analysis of the way the recent Islamic resurgence has impacted coexistence (convivencia) between the different religious confessions in the region. Nation-States had been imposed by external powers during the era of colonialism, unifying provinces and tribes from different religions and ethnicities under state institutions. This in turn created a crises of identity in the authoritarian regimes set up after independence. We are interested in understanding of how these religious and ethnics groups construct themselves as distinct identities, what are their perspectives, and how to explain the characteristics of the minorities existent in the region from anthropological point of view in the case of Syria and Iraq. The project thus looks at the ways plurality was  organised in different historical phases: under the Ottoman Empire; during the English and French occupation; and from independence till the present. This involves an evaluation of  Islamist political trends between Sunni Muslims and Shi’ia Muslims and their impact on the political administrative system and the rule of law.

Anthropological contributions to Convivencia 2:
Making the Emic and the Etic talk

Social anthropologists also seek to address the lack of conversation between ‘academic’ and ‘lay’ users of the term. Ethnographic research suggests that popular usages of convivencia are neither simplistic nor irrational. Rather, they represent sophisticated political practices of Levi-Straussian myth-making that engage and mobilize memory, language, archaeological landscapes and religious symbols and cosmologies to produce local stimulating models of convivencia (emic) that can help us sharpen our academic (etic) understanding of the term.

We ask, for example, what the Ceutan distinction between ‘convivencia’ (cohabitating, living together/with each other)  and ‘coexistencia’ (coexisting, living alongside but apart each other) implies for academia, which tends to see the two as synonymous. Analysis of Ceutan discourses of convivencia also warn us against the ‘methodological ethno-religiosity’ that has dominated the field, whereby (in)tolerance between members of different communities is reduced to love for or hatred towards the ethno-religious other (racismo). Ceutan convivencia encourages us to explore how/why collective identities are politically created and revised, and how these categories interact with the pre-existing normative ideas and economies of neighbors (vecinos) and neighborhoods (barrios).

On the other hand, etic models of convivencia, which stress the interplay of tolerance and intolerance, conflict and peace can inform local projects of convivencia. They can show that the reluctance and anxiety felt by actors asked to entrust historically antagonistic others with those sacred spaces, symbols and rituals that define the group’s identity does not necessarily mean the failure of convivencia, but is rather the normal, well-documented symptom of trying to live together.

Anthropology, therefore, sees itself as the bridge, mediator and translator in a dialogue that can improve the governance of modern European and Mediterranean societies increasingly marked by crises of migration, multiculturalism and economic recession. In other words, Anthropology sees the exchanges and antagonisms between academic and popular models of convivencia as itself an exercise in convivencia.  

Anthropological contributions to Convivencia 3:
Tools of analysis and comparison

The study of the management of difference of course entails a solid grasp of social identity and conflict. Aside from general anthropological notions of ‘alliance’, ‘solidarity’, ‘ritual’, ‘mythology’, ‘mimetic rivalry’, ‘scape-goating’, ‘stereotypes’ and ‘personhood’ which can infuse the analysis of convivencia, the Convivencia Research Group brings to the project a coherent theoretical toolset developed by the Department ‘Integration and Conflict’ of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. This theoretical framework asks researchers to pay attention to the socio-economic construction and legitimation of collective identities and how these categories of belonging are represented (e.g. mythology, symbols, anthems, discourses of shared biological essence). We are also interested in how actors react to these collective identities and their explicit or implicit appeals for individuals counted as members to behave in certain ways.  This basic language can help provide a common denominator that brings together the dazzling – yet disorganized – range of approaches to convivencia developed over the previous decades.

In addition, in the case of Syria and Iraq, we should pay attention to the dynamics of the Islamic society and its evaluation. The project here makes full use of anthropological tools to analyse the concept of the nation-state as it functions and govern both countries. This will allow us to explore the cultural constitution of the state: that is, how people perceive the state, how their understandings were shaped by their particular socio-cultural contexts, and how they construct intimate, embodied encounters with state institutions and officials.  

Publications on Convivencia

Convivencia in Mediterranean Port Cities

•    Driessen, H. & T. Otto (eds) 2000. Perplexities of Identification. Anthropological Studies in Cultural Differentiation and the Use of Resources. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.
•    Driessen, Henk. 2005. Mediterranean Port Cities: Cosmopolitanism Reconsidered. History and Anthropology 16(1):129-141
•    Eldem, E., D. Goffman & B. Masters. 1999. The Ottoman City between East and West. Aleppo, Izmir,and Istanbul. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
•    Hannerz, U. 1996, Transnational Connections. Culture, People, Places. London: Routledge
•    Ilbert, R. & I. Yannakakis. 1997. Alexandria 1860-1960: The Brief Life of a Cosmopolitan Community. Alexandria, Harpocrates Publishing.
•    Morris, J. 2002. Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere. London: Faber & Faber.
•    Örs, I. 2002. Coffeehouses, cosmopolitanism, and pluralizing modernities in Istanbul. Journal of Mediterranean Studies, 12, 119-145.

Convivencia, Mimetic Rivalry and Scapegoating
•    Blok, A. 2001. “The Narcissisism of Minor Differences”. In Honour and Violence, Edited by Blok, A.. Cambridge, Polity Press, pp:115–135
•    Girard, R. 1977. Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
•    Girard, R. 2004. Violence and Mimesis. Cambridge, Polity Press.
•    Girard, Rene. 1986. The Scapegoat. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
•    Golsan, R.J. 2001. René Girard and Myth: An Introduction. New York, Routledge
•    Harrison, S. 2006. Fracturing Resemblances: Identity and Mimetic Conflict in Melanesia and the West. London, Bergahn Press.

Convivencia, Memory and the (re)Invention of Tradition
•    Albert-Llorca, M. & González Alcantud, J. A. (eds) 2003. Moros y Cristianos:representaciones del otro en las fiestas del Mediterráneo occidental. Toulouse;Granada: Presses Universitaires de Toulouse Le Mirail – Diputación de Granada.
•    Alexander, J.; Maston, J. L. & Giesen, B. (eds) 2006. Social Performance: Symbolic Action, Cultural Pragmatics, and Ritual (Cambridge Cultural Social Studies).Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
•    Ashworth, G. J.; Graham, B. & Tunbridge, J. E. (eds) 2007. Pluralising Pasts. Heritage, Identity and Place in Multicultural Societies. London: Pluto Press.
•    Baumann, R. E. 1995. The ‘Moors and Christians’ of Válor: Folkore and conflict in the Alpujarra (Andalusia) Doctoral Dissertation at Tulane University (UMI Number9620843).
•    Boissevain, J. (ed.) 1991. Revitalizing European Rituals. London: Routledge.
•    Driessen, H. 1985. Mock battles between Moors and Christians. Playing the confrontation of crescent with cross in Spain’s South. Journal of European Ethnology 15:105–115
•    Fournier, L.-S. 2008. Festivals, games, and ludic performances as new potentialintangible cultural heritage in the Mediterranean world. Journal of MediterraneanStudies 18/1: 1–15.
•    González-López, E. 1976. ‘The Myth of Saint James and its Functional Reality’, in JR, Barcia (ed.) Américo Castro and the Meaning of Spanish Civilization. Berkley, University of California Press.
•    Harris, M. 1994. Muhammed and the Virgin. Folk Dramatizations of Battles betweenMoors and Christians in modern Spain. In TDR The Drama Review 38/1 45–61.
•    Harris, M. 2000. Aztecs, Moors, and Christians: Festivals Of Reconquest In Mexico And Spain. Austin/Texas: University of Texas Press.
•    Hobsbawm, E.J. 1992. Nations and Nationalism Since 1780. Programme, Myth, Reality. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
•    Kottmann, S. 2011. Mocking and Miming the Moor: Staging on the Self and Other on Spain’s Borders with Morocco. Journal of Mediterranean Studies. 20,1, 107-36
•    Krom, M. J. C. 2008. Festivals of Moors and Christians: Performance, Commodity and Identity in Folk Celebrations in Southern Spain. In: Journal of Mediterranean Studies 18/1: 119–138
•    Mitchell, T. 1990. Passional culture: emotion, religion, and society in Southern Spain. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press
•    Schechner, R. 2003. Performance Theory. New York: Routledge.
•    Zillinger, M. 2008. Folklore und Passion: Marokkanische Hochzeiten und transnationale Öffentlichkeit. In Migration und religiöse Dynamik. Ethnologische Religionsforschung im transnationalen Kontext, (eds.) A. Lauser & C. Weissköppel,Bielefeld: Transcript, 218–243

Convivencia and the governance of multicultural realities (Islam in/of Europe)
•    Berkey, J. 2001. Popular Preaching and Religious authority in the Medieval Islamic Near East. University of Washington Press.
•    Brown, W. 2006. Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
•    Bryant, Rebecca. 2016. Post-Ottoman Coexistence: Sharing Space in the Shadow of Conflict. Bergahn.
•    Centlivres, P. 2003. “Images populaires, motifs religieux et fonctions politiques dans le monde islamique contemporain”. In La multiplication des images en pays d'islam, Edited by, Heyberger, B. and Naef, S. 119–135. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag Würzburg
•    Dietz, G. & El-Shohoumi, N. 2002. Door to Door with Our Muslim Sisters: interculturaland inter-religious conflicts in Granada, Spain Studi Emigrazione 39(145): 77–106.
•    Dietz, G. 2004. Frontier hybridization or culture clash?: Transnational migrantcommunities and subnational politics in Andalusia, Spain. Journal of Ethnic and  Migration Studies 30/6: 1087–1112.
•    Gilsenan, M. 1973. Saint and Sufi in Modern Egypt: An Essay in the Sociology of Religion. University of Michigan, Clarendon Press.
•    Gilsenan, M. 2000. Recognizing Islam: Religion and Society in the Modern Middle East. New York, B.Tauris.
•    González Alcantud, J. A. (ed.) 2002. Lo moro. Las lógicas de la derrota y la formacióndel estereotipo islámico. Barcelona: Anthropos.
•    González Enriquez, C. 2007. Ceuta and Melilla: Clouds over the African Spanish towns. Muslim minorities, Spaniards’ fears and Morocco-Spain mutual dependence. Journal of African Studies 12(2):219–234
•    Goody, J. 2004. Islam in Europe. Cambridge, Polity.
•    Grabar, O. 1994. “Two Paradoxes in the Islamic art of the Spanish Peninsula”. In The Legacy of Muslim Spain, Edited by : Jayyusi, S.K. 583–591. Leyde, Brill.
•    Lipton, G. A. 2011. “Secular Sufism: Neoliberalism, Ethnoracism, and the Reformation of the Muslim Other.” The Muslim World, 101(3): 427–440.
•    Martin-Márquez, S. 2008. Disorientations: Spanish Colonialism in Africa and the Performance of Identity. Yale, Yale University Press.
•    Martorell, M.F. 2009. Antropologia de la convivencia / Anthropology of Coexistence: Manifesto de antropologia urbana / Manifesto of Urban Anthropology (Teorema / Theorem)  
•    Moffette, D. 2010. “Convivencia and Securitisation: Ordering and Managing migration in Ceuta (Spain).” Journal of Legal Anthropology, 1(2): 189-211.
•    Moffette, D. 2013. “Muslim Ceuties, Migrants and Porteadores: Race Security and Tolerance at the Spanish-Moroccan border.” Canadian Journal of Sociology 38(4): 601-621.
•    Ray, J. 2006. ‘Beyond Tolerance and Persecution: Reassessing Our Approach to Medieval Convivencia. Jewish Social Studies, 11: 1–18.
•    Rogozen-Soltar, M. 2007. Al-Andalus in Andalusia: Negotiating Moorish History andRegional Identity in Southern Spain. In Anthropological Quarterly 80/3: 863–886
•    Schlee, G. 2013. Ruling over Ethnic and Religious Differences: A comparative essay on Empires. Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Department ‘Integration and Conflict, Working paper 143.
•    Torres Colón, G. 2008. Of Muslim Persuasion: The Politics of Convivencia in Ceuta, Spain. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico.
•    Tylor, E. B. 1889. “On a Method of Investigating the Development of Institutions applied to Laws of Marriage and Descent”. Journal of the Anthropological Institute, : 245–272.
•    Zapata-Barrero, R. & de Witte, N. 2010. Muslims in Spain. Blurring past and present Moors. In Muslims in 21st century Europe: Structural and Cultural Perspectives,(ed.) Triandafyllibou, A., London: Routledge 181–198.

Convivencia and the sharing of Sacred Spaces
•    Albera, D & Courcouli M. (eds). Sharing Sacred Spaces in the Mediterranean: Christians, Muslims, and Jews at Shrines and Sanctuaries. Indiana University Press.
•    Barkan, E & Larkey, K (eds). 2014. Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites: Religion, Politics, and Conflict Resolution.  New York, Columbia University Press.
•    Bowman, G. (ed). Sharing the Sacra: The Politics and Pragmatics of Intercommunal Relations around Holy Places. London, Berghahn Books.
•    Hayden, R. (ed). Antagonistic Tolerance: Competitive Sharing of Religious Sites and Spaces. London, Routledge.

Convivencia and ‘the Mediterranean’ as an Analytical Category
•    Abulafia, David. 2013. The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
•    Chambers, I. 2008. Mediterranean Crossings. The politics of an interrupted modernity. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
•    Clifford, J. 1995. Routes, Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Harvard, Harvard University Press
•    Concannon, C. & Mazurek, L. (eds). 2016. Across the Corrupting Sea: Post-Braudelian Approaches to the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean, Routledge.
•    Harris, W.V (ed). Rethinking the Mediterranean. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
•    Herzfeld, M. 1980. “Honour and Shame: Problems of the Comparative Analysis of Moral Systems”. Man, 339–351.
•    Herzfeld, M. 1987. Anthropology through the Looking glass: Critical Ethnography in the Margins of Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
•    Horden, P. & Hauschild, T.; Kottmann, S. & Zillinger, M. 2005. Les syncrétismes en Méditerranée, in: La Parra, Emilio; Fabre, Thierry (dir.)  Entre Europe et Méditerranée. Paix et guerres entre les cultures. Paris; Arles: Éditions Actes Sud: 139-174.
•    Pina Cabral, J. (de). 1989. “The Mediterranean as a Category of Regional Comparison : A Critical View”. Current Anthropology, : 399–406.
•    Purcell, N. 2000. The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History. Wiley-Blackwell.

Working theories of solidarity and conflict
•    Cristian Bromberger. 2007. “Bridge, Wall, Mirror ; Coexistence and Confrontations in the Mediterranean World.” History and Anthropology, Volume 18, no 3, 2007, pages 291-307.
•    Donahoe, B, Eidson, J, Fetissa, D, Fuest, V, Hoehne, M, Nieswand, B, Schlee, G and Zenker, O. 2009. The Formation and Mobilization of Collective Identities in Situations of Conflict and Integration. Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Department ‘Integration and Conflict, Working paper 116.
•    Hoffe, O. 2001, Pluralism and tolerance, International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioural Sciences. Oxford: Pergamon/Elsevier, pp. 11520-11527.
•    Levi-Strauss, C. 1973. Anthropologie structurale. Paris, Plon.

Pioneering texts on Convivencia
•    Castro, A. 1954. The Structure of Spanish History. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
•    Catlos, B. 2004. The Victors and the Vanquished: Christians and Muslims of Catalonia and Aragon, 1050–1300. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
•    Collins, R, & Goodman, A. 2002. Medieval Spain: Culture, Conflict and Coexistence. London, Palgrave Macmillan.
•    Collins, R. 1981. Early Medieval Spain: Unity in Diversity, 400–1000, New York, St. Martin's Press.
•    Glick, T. 1979. Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages. Princeton, Princeton University Press.
•    Glick, T. 2005. Islamic and Christian Spain in the Early Middle Ages. Leiden, Brill.
•    Jayyusi, Salma. 1994. The Legacy of Muslim Spain. London, Brill Press.
•    Lowney, C. 2005, A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
•    Mann, V, Glick, T, & Dodds, J, (eds.). 1992. Convivencia: Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Medieval Spain. New York, George Braziller.
•    Menocal, MR. 2002. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Little, Brown, and Co., Boston, MA.
•    Nirenberg, D. 1996, Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

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