Brian Catlos is this year’s recipient of the Haskins Medal for his book Muslims of Medieval Latin Christendom, c. 1050-1614.
Catlos, professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, will accept the medal, awarded by the Medieval Academy of America for a distinguished book in the field of medieval studies, during the group’s annual meeting in Atlanta next month.
Describing the award as “the most prestigious award in in medieval studies,” Catlos said he is honored and humbled by the recognition.
The Haskins Medal committee noted the timeliness of the book’s topic of Christian-Muslim relations and praised Catlos for “resisting the temptation to over-sensationalize his material.” The committee praised the “admirable scope” and “commendable depth” of its scholarship.
Catlos’s book provides a historical synthesis that’s a distinctive and creative reinterpretation, the committee said, adding:
“It provides the thorough and nuanced analysis that we must have if we are to understand the fascinating vitality in an entire range of interactions as both sides faced challenges that emerged as Muslim societies continued through crusade and conquest to live within Christian territories.”
Catlos said the recognition suggests that medieval studies is moving away from its “traditional eurocentrism” and toward a “broader, more inclusive, more Mediterranean, view.” He wrote the book because no existing work brought together the history of minority Muslim communities within medieval Europe in one study.
Muslims “had effectively been written out of the history of Europe” despite the fact that large populations of Muslims lived in Spain, Italy, the crusader states and Europe for nearly 600 years and had a tremendous effect on European culture and society, Catlos said.
Although there were episodes of tension and violence directed at these Muslims, and their history was punctuated by expulsions, for the most part Christian-Muslim relations were peaceful and stable, he said.
“But when it was bad, it was really bad.”
In 1492, the Jews of Spain were given the choice to convert to Christianity or leave in exile; about 15,000 left. It’s less commonly known that between 1609 and 1614, all descendants of Spain’s Muslims, people who had been Christian for three generations, were all forcibly exiled, Catlos said, calling that purge an “an ethnic cleansing” that forced 300,000 people from the only home they had ever known.
Catlos’s vast body of scholarship is reshaping the field of medieval studies and the history of ‘the western civilization’ as he shifts our lens towards the Mediterranean, which is what he refers to as the ‘crucible of the west.'"
Catlos said most people also are unaware that slavery was common in medieval Europe, or that between 1050 and 1350, most of those slaves were Muslim captives.
The history of Muslims, Christians and Jews in this period is complex, he said, adding: “I wanted to tell it in as honest and a detached way as possible, without romanticizing or exoticizing this history, without moralizing or passing judgment.”
When Catlos took on the project, however, he didn’t fully appreciate its breadth. Cambridge University Press asked him to produce about 90,000 words, or a bit more than 200 pages. When he turned it in, more than two years behind schedule, it was 270,000 words, almost 650 pages.
Despite the book’s length, Cambridge published it, and before winning the Haskins Medal, it won the Middle East Studies Association’s Albert Hourani Book Prize.
“Most importantly, I learned a lot,” he said.
David Shneer, chair of the CU Boulder Department of Religious Studies, said Catlos has raised the status of the university and the department.
“Catlos’s vast body of scholarship is reshaping the field of medieval studies and the history of ‘the western civilization’ as he shifts our lens towards the Mediterranean, which is what he refers to as the ‘crucible of the west,’” Shneer said.
First presented in 1940, the Haskins Medal honors Charles Homer Haskins, a noted medieval historian, who was a founder of the Medieval Academy and its second president.
Catlos’ next book, Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain is due out on May 1. Aimed at a broader audience, the new book covers the history of Islam in Spain, from the time of the Arab conquest through the rise and fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba, to the expulsion of the Spanish Moors.