In The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment
(Harvard University Press, 2018), Alexander Bevilacqua
uncovers a different side of the European Enlightenment, at least with regards to its engagement with Arabic and Islam. Instead of polemics, he tells the story of how books and ideas moved across continents and were studied in Europe, where they were considered a serious object of engagement. He first tracks the movement of books to Europe, then the translation of Arabic’s most famous book---the Qur’an---culminating in the study of Arabic-language materials, which he refers to as the Republic of Arabic Letters. He draws on sources in multiple languages to paint a picture of a vibrant long-distance intellectual community (or the Republic of Arabic Letters) that, for a brief period before European colonial encounters, admired, rather than derided the Arab and Muslim intellectual traditions. He talks to us about the inspiration for the book, why he thinks this intellectual community was so important, and where he sees his work amidst the greater sea of scholarship.
Alexander Bevilacqua is an Assistant Professor of History at Williams College. He specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of early modern Europe (ca. 1450 to 1800). He was educated at Harvard College, University of Cambridge, and Princeton University. From 2014 until 2017 he was a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows. His work has appeared in History of European Ideas
, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes
, and Past and Present
. He has edited, along with F. Clark, Thinking in the Past Tense: Eight Conversations
(Forthcoming in December 2018 with University of Chicago Press) and he won the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize of Harvard University Press for The Republic of Arabic Letters: Islam and the European Enlightenment
Nadirah Mansour is a graduate student at Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies working on the global intellectual history of the Arabic-language press. She tweets @NAMansour26 and produces another Middle-East and North Africa-related podcast: Reintroducing.