|Timothy Riggs, Post-doctoral researcher
Constructions of Self and Other: Polemical Engagement with the Other in St. John of Damascus and Beyond
St. John of Damascus (d. mid-8th century CE) is the author of two of the earliest extant Christian texts which directly engage with Islamic doctrine. One text is an account of Islam regarded as a particular heresy, in which John outlines what he takes to be the fundamental tenets of Islam and explains how they deviate from the truth. The other text is a refutation of some Islamic doctrines presented in the form of a dialogue between a Christian and a Muslim. Despite how they are often treated, these short texts comprise parts of a larger project undertaken by John of defining the Christian way of life and identity over against those of other groups all of which he regarded as heretical. In any case, these texts provided models for later Christian polemicists (usually Orthodox or Melkite) writing against Islam, such as Theodore Abū Qurra. They may also have had an indirect, if not direct, influence on the writings of some Muslim polemicists against Christianity, like Abū ‘Isa al-Warraq (d. 9th century CE), who engaged in debate with John’s intellectual successors.
The purpose of the project is twofold. The first aim is to give a detailed account of John’s broad project of defining Christian identity, by outlining his methodology and showing how his various writings relate to the central work of the project, namely his Fount of Knowledge. The second aim is then to reconsider the writings of later Christian and Muslim against Islam and Christianity as acts of cultural self-construction in the face of the other.