Creating East and West
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Creating East and West
Renaissance Humanists and the Ottoman Turks

Nancy Bisaha

320 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth 2004 | ISBN 978-0-8122-3806-8 | $59.95s | £39.00 | Add to cart
Paper 2006 | ISBN 978-0-8122-1976-0 | $26.50s | £17.50 | Add to cart
Ebook 2011 | ISBN 978-0-8122-0129-1 | $26.50s | £17.50 | About | Add to cart
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"This engaging and enlightening work is an important contribution to scholarship on the evolution of Western thinking on the Muslim world and on the West's sense of itself."—Journal of Religion

"Creating East and West is carefully researched and develops a nuanced and subtle argument that portrays the complexity and variability of the West's intellectual response to the Ottoman challenge. It also underscores the importance of this period for the evolution of concepts such as East and West, Europe and Asia, and suggests how these Renaissance views influenced early modern attitudes, and indeed may still inform the modern discourse on Islam and the West."—Renaissance Quarterly

"A fruitful, engaging exploration of a formative moment in Western culture, a moment that simultaneously gave rise to the vilified image of "the Turk" and witnessed the self-fashioning of European modernity."—Bulletin of the Royal Institute For Inter-Faith Studies

"A beautifully written and fascinating study that evokes an aspect of Renaissance Italian humanist writings long neglected by historians: the humanist responses to the perceived, and often real, threat of the Ottoman Turks (and Islam generally) to Europe in the wake of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453."—Comitatus

"Bisaha provides the most comprehensive and nuanced account now available of the attitudes of Western intellectuals to the Turks, the Byzantines, and crusading in Renaissance Italy, an important time and place for the formation of Western cultural identity."—James Hankins, Harvard University

As the Ottoman Empire advanced westward from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, humanists responded on a grand scale, leaving behind a large body of fascinating yet understudied works. These compositions included Crusade orations and histories; ethnographic, historical, and religious studies of the Turks; epic poetry; and even tracts on converting the Turks to Christianity. Most scholars have seen this vast literature as atypical of Renaissance humanism. Nancy Bisaha now offers an in-depth look at the body of Renaissance humanist works that focus not on classical or contemporary Italian subjects but on the Ottoman Empire, Islam, and the Crusades. Throughout, Bisaha probes these texts to reveal the significant role Renaissance writers played in shaping Western views of self and other.

Medieval concepts of Islam were generally informed and constrained by religious attitudes and rhetoric in which Muslims were depicted as enemies of the faith. While humanist thinkers of the Renaissance did not move entirely beyond this stance, Creating East and West argues that their understanding was considerably more complex, in that it addressed secular and cultural issues, marking a watershed between the medieval and modern. Taking a close look at a number of texts, Bisaha expands current notions of Renaissance humanism and of the history of cross-cultural perceptions. Engaging both traditional methods of intellectual history and more recent methods of cross-cultural studies, she demonstrates that modern attitudes of Western societies toward other cultures emerged not during the later period of expansion and domination but rather as a defensive intellectual reaction to a sophisticated and threatening power to the East.

Nancy Bisaha is Associate Professor of History at Vassar College.

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