Autumn General Meeting
November 14, 2008
Thomas E. Burman
The American Philosophical Society awarded the 2008 Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History to Dr. Thomas E. Burman for his book, Reading the Qur’an in Latin Christendom, 1140-1560. The award was presented by Mary Patterson McPherson, Executive Officer of the Society.
Thomas E. Burman is Professor and Head of the Department of History at the University of Tennessee, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1991. He received his Ph.D. in medieval studies from the University of Toronto in 1991. In 1995 he received a research grant from the Society.
Exceedingly original in its deployment of source material, its analyses and its conclusions, Thomas Burman’s Reading the Qur’an in Latin Christendom, 1140-1560 is a major contribution that is changing the way medieval and Renaissance history of Muslim-Christian relations is written. A learned and revisionist study of the knowledge of the Qur’an in the West in the later Middle Ages, it has its origins in the Latin translations found primarily in early printed books. Whereas past historians have leaned heavily on polemical treatises against Islam written by Christian scholars, Burman’s largely unmined sources tell a different story: that the reading of the Qur’an in Western Europe was highly complex, with scholars of the period immersed in a wide range of grammatical, lexical and interpretive problems presented by the text. Burman considers these subjects in the historical and comparative context of Christian-Muslim relations and cultures and modern Qur’anic scholarship. The result is a hands-on picture of how Europeans read the sacred text of Islam.
The Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History is awarded annually to the author whose book exhibits distinguished work in American or European cultural history. The prize honors historian and cultural critic Jacques Barzun, a member of the American Philosophical Society since 1984.
The selection committee consisted of chairman Donald R. Kelley, James Westfall Thompson Professor of History Emeritus, Rutgers University; Glen W. Bowersock, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History, Institute for Advanced Study; and Michael Wood, Charles Barnwell Straut Professor of English, Princeton University.