Connected Histories

Discussion points for The Ornament of the World

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Giancarlo Casale suggests questions and topics to encourage and guide discussion.


The Ornament of the World

In the history of al-Andalus, there seems to be a surprising correlation between rising political disunity (following the dissolution of the Caliphate) and rising cultural florescence. Why might this be? Can you think of other, analogous examples from world history, or the present day?

What role does language play in the history of Al-Andalusian culture? What is a “Mozarab”?  What does “Judeo-Arabic” mean? And what to implications do these terms have for the way we think about identity, ethnicity, and language in modern times? 

What do you think about Maria Rosa Menocal’s insistence on the “uniqueness” of the culture of tolerance of Andalus? Is it convincing, or overstated? What was it based upon? What lessons, if any, would such a culture hold in regard to issues of tolerance and coexistence in the contemporary world?

While there is a tendency to see Muslims, Christians, and Jews as stable, internally coherent communities in interaction with one another, Menocal’s book sheds light on tensions, rivalries, and divisions within each of these communities. In al-Andalus, what were some of these divisions, how did they change over time, and what implications did they hold for relations between the different religions?

If you are already familiar with one or more of the literary classics discussed in this The Ornament of the World (El Cid, Don Quixote, The Song of Roland), has Menocal’s portrayal changed your understanding of those works? If so, in what way?

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"Muslim Journeys | Item #275: Discussion points for The Ornament of the World", April 17, 2024