Book Launch: Christian Martyrs under Islam

Book Launch: Christian Martyrs under Islam

Tuesday, 30 October 2018 - 5:00pm
Venue: 
Investcorp Auditorium, Middle East Centre, St Antony's College
Speaker(s): 
Dr Christian C. Sahner (Associate Professor of Islamic History, Faculty of Oriental Studies)
Chair: 
Professor Bryan Ward-Perkins (Faculty History, Oxford)
Discussant: 
Dr Phil Booth (Faculty of Theology) and Professor Julia Bray (Oriental Institute)
Series: 
MEC Seminar

About the book:

How did the medieval Middle East transform from a majority-Christian world to a majority-Muslim world, and what role did violence play in this process? Christian Martyrs under Islam explains how Christians across the early Islamic caliphate slowly converted to the faith of the Arab conquerors and how small groups of individuals rejected this faith through dramatic acts of resistance, including apostasy and blasphemy.

Using previously untapped sources in a range of Middle Eastern languages, Christian Sahner introduces an unknown group of martyrs who were executed at the hands of Muslim officials between the seventh and ninth centuries CE. Found in places as diverse as Syria, Spain, Egypt, and Armenia, they include an alleged descendant of Muhammad who converted to Christianity, high-ranking Christian secretaries of the Muslim state who viciously insulted the Prophet, and the children of mixed marriages between Muslims and Christians. Sahner argues that Christians never experienced systematic persecution under the early caliphs, and indeed, they remained the largest portion of the population in the greater Middle East for centuries after the Arab conquest. Still, episodes of ferocious violence contributed to the spread of Islam within Christian societies, and memories of this bloodshed played a key role in shaping Christian identity in the new Islamic empire. 

Christian Martyrs under Islam examines how violence against Christians ended the age of porous religious boundaries and laid the foundations for more antagonistic Muslim-Christian relations in the centuries to come (Princeton University Press).

About the speaker:

Dr Christian Sahner is a historian of the Middle East. He is principally interested in the transition from Late Antiquity to the Islamic Middle Ages, relations between Muslims and Christians, and the history of Syria and Iran.

He is the author of two books: Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (Hurst - Oxford, 2014), a blend of history, memoir, and reportage from his time in the Levant before and after the Syrian Civil War; and Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World (Princeton, 2018, forthcoming) a study of how the medieval Middle East slowly transformed from a majority-Christian region to a majority-Muslim one and the role that violence played in the process. An earlier version of this research was awarded the Malcolm H. Kerr Prize for Best Dissertation in the Humanities from the Middle East Studies Association.

Born in New York City, he earned an A.B. from Princeton, an M.Phil from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Ph.D. also from Princeton. Prior to joining the Oriental Institute, he was a research fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. He writes about the history, art, and culture of the Middle East for The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.