The “Southeast Medieval Association” keynote address that Wolf gave at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina in October 2007. Convivencia is a historical term used to describe the “coexistence” of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities in medieval Spain and by extension the interaction, exchange, and acculturation fostered by such proximity. It first emerged as the by-product of a famous debate between Américo Castro and Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz that dominated Spanish historical scholarship during the Franco years. Since then convivencia has taken on a life of its own, fueled in part by increased interest in multi-culturalism on the one hand and rising concern about sectarian violence on the other. The application of anthropological models has gone a long way toward clarifying the actual mechanisms of acculturation at work in medieval Spain and tempering the tendency to romanticize convivencia. But the weightier and saner parts of that research have yet to trickle down to the “Borders” crowd and romantic notions of medieval Spanish tolerance persist, fed, in large part, by the continued popularity of a single book: María Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2002).
© 2007 Kenneth Baxter Wolf
Kenneth B. Wolf. "Convivencia and the 'Ornament of the World'." Southeast Medieval Association, Wofford College, Spartanburg, South Carolina, Oct. 2007. Address.