The Great Transition

April 27 2012

Peter Brown (currently at Princeton) reviews

Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition (7th-9th Century), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 14-July 8.

I don’t know how I have missed other pieces by him recently in the New York Review of Books, but here is a list. He is one of the few historians whose collected works I’d consider for desert island reading.

“We have been taught to see late antiquity and [the early period of Islam] in exclusively religious terms. In the words of Finbarr Flood, the period has suffered from an ‘excessive focus on religiosity.’ Anna Ballian warns us not to assume that ‘religion permeated every aspect of medieval society and in importance far outweighed secular matters.’ For this was by no means the case. There was always room for a ‘religion of the world’ – a tenacious conviction that there was more to life than piety. There was also something thrilling and almost numinous about wealth, good health, and the gift of children.”

We look at Iran this way today. If you go there, there is also sensuality, and fun to be had. In a week in Tehran in 1994 I never even heard a call to prayer.

The exhibition covers some of the ground of Holland’s new book (April 25 post).

One Response to “The Great Transition”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Brown often interjects things from real life – flowers, children, light – into historical narrative.


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