College of Arts and Sciences

Thomas E. Burman

Thomas A. Burman

Distinguished Lecturers

"Medieval Christians and the Holy Book of Islam"
Thomas E. Burman
Distinguished Professor of the Humanities and head of the Department of History
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Monday, October 22

While we might imagine that medieval Christians only responded to the Qur’an with hostility—which they certainly did—they also interacted with it in other ways that might surprise us. For one thing, some educated Christians were able to dedicate remarkably dispassionate scholarship to Islam’s holy book, while wealthy laymen sometimes commissioned expensively produced manuscript copies of it to go into the large libraries that they assembled to impress their friends. Most intriguing of all is the interaction with the Qur’an that we see among Christians living, as large numbers did, under Islamic rule and within the sophisticated culture of the Arab world. For them the Qur’an was so omnipresent that its language came to shape their Christian beliefs.


Thomas E. Burman (Ph.D., Medieval Studies, University of Toronto) is Distinguished Professor of the Humanities and head of the Department of History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he has taught for twenty-one years. His scholarly work focuses on the intellectual, cultural, and religious interactions between medieval Christians and Muslims in the western Mediterranean. His first book, Religious Polemic and the Intellectual History of the Mozarabs, c.1050–1200 (1994) examined the learned culture of the Arabic-speaking Christians of Islamic Spain, while his Reading the Qur’an in Latin Christendom, 1140–1560 (2007) traced the reactions of medieval and early-modern Europeans to Islam’s holy book, whether they read it (as many did) in Latin translation or the Arabic original. Reading the Qur’an won the American Philosophical Society’s Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History and was named a Choice Outstanding Academic title. In 1992–93 he was Rockefeller Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of Islamic Societies and Civilizations at Washington University in St. Louis; in 2002–03 he was a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow and Abdul Aziz Al-Mutawa Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in the U.K. He has given invited lectures at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Yale University, Columbia University, University of Chicago, and the Warburg Institute at the University of London. In 2010, he was a plenary speaker at the 40th International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo Michigan. He teaches courses on medieval intellectual history, Christian-Muslim Relations, medieval paleography, and the history of reading. In 2001 he co-founded the Marco Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Tennessee. He is currently writing a book entitled Dominicans, Islam, and Christian Thought, 1220-1320.