Darío Fernández-Morera on Andalusian Spain
Date: December 13th, 2015

In 711 A.D., an Islamic army from North Africa successfully conquered the majority of what is contemporary Spain, issuing in several centuries of Muslim rule on the peninsula.  Beginning with the Enlightenment and continuing to present day, a number of scholars have written that the era of Andalusian Spain was one of religious harmony.  Prof. Darío Fernández-Morera, an associate professor of Spanish & Portuguese at Northwestern University, examines what he calls the “myth of the Andalusian paradise” and the nature of hierocratic rule in medieval Spain.

Our conversation begins with discussion of how Prof. Fernández-Morera came to write on this topic.  The first myth he displaces is the one that language professors in humanities departments only write about grammar and punctuation.  He explains how research professors in departments such as Spanish & Portuguese actually examine a wide variety of topics, from literature to politics and many historical themes.  It was during his own research on Miguel de Cervantes that he came upon a number of scholarly conceptualizations of Islamic Spain that presented the era as one where religious harmony reigned.  Using a variety of sources, including original historical documentation, Darío investigated the truth to these claims.  We lay out the parameters of his study, noting that he is primarily interested in the period of 711 A.D. to the end of the thirteenth century, when Muslims controlled most of Spain except for Galacia and a few other pockets of Christian resistance in the northwest.  He reviews the history of the Islamic conquest and explains why he prefers to use the term Spain instead of Iberia.

We then turn to how Muslims ruled Spain during this period.  Prof. Fernández-Morera notes that non-Muslims had four basic options: 1) convert to Islam; 2) pay the jizya (religious tithe); 3) flee; or 4) be killed.  The rule was so comprehensive that no remains of churches can be found in southern Spain dating back to this era, and Christianity in Granada essentially vanished.  We then look at how other scholars have viewed this era, with Prof. Fernández-Morera, explaining how a general myth of religious harmony and benevolent rule took hold.  He traces this back to the Enlightenment period when more secular scholars sought to denigrate the importance of Christianity in Europe’s history, the development of exoticism and romantic notions of foreign cultures during the 19th century, and more recent versions of Occidentalism that pervade academia today.  He explains the notion of heriocratic government (rule by clerics), the Maliki school of jurisprudence, and how non-Muslims were used as bureaucratic servants.  We review a number of prohibitions that were put into place during this time, including apostasy, blasphemy, and drinking in public.  It was noted that Christians could drink in their own communities, but they were forbidden to sell wine or other liquor to Muslims.  Violations of these rules met with harsh punishments, including execution.

We also examine inter-faith relations, with Darío dispelling the notion of convivencia (or “living in harmony”).  Christians lived separately from Muslims and there were a number of regulations — such as drinking from the same well or dining together — that kept the populations separate.  He also discusses various rules governing the behavior of women, including veiling and prohibitions on females working outside the home.  As to treatment of Jews, Prof. Fernández-Morera points out that they were treated better under Muslim rule than previous Christian rule, and this was largely due to the fact that Muslim rulers wanted to use Jews as a counterpoise to Christian communities (much the way the U.S. has played Sunnis and Shiites off one another in Iraq in the past decade).  We finish with some of Darío’s personal reflection on his study and his thoughts about how his research will be received in a broader academic community.  Recorded: December 8, 2015.



Prof. Darío Fernandez-Morera’s bio at Northwestern University’s Dept. of Spanish & Portuguese.

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain, by Darío Fernández-Morera.

The Lyre and the Oaten Flute: Garcilaso and the Pastoral, by Darío Fernández-Morera.

Europe and its Encounter with the Amerindians, edited by Darío Fernández-Morera.

Academia and the Survival of Marxist Ideas, by Darío Fernández-Morera.


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John Owen IV on Confronting Political Islam, Historical Lessons.

Ron Hassner on Sacred Spaces & Holy Conflict.

One Response to “Darío Fernández-Morera on Andalusian Spain”

  1. Wesley says:

    I’m sad that the guest’s voice quality is so poor, this otherwise seemed like a very interesting topic

Leave a Reply to Wesley

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