For most parts of the 11th -13th centuries, Islam and Christianity had a profound impact on the cultural development of the medieval society.i During this time, medieval Europe and Asia absorbed knowledge from Muslims and Christians respectively. This intellectual transfer also affected other aspects of cultural development in the regions.
This paper highlights the impact of both religions on the medieval world by showing that the influence of Islam on Medieval Europe was stronger than the influence of Christianity in medieval Asia. In this regard, this paper also shows that Islam influenced the cultural development of medieval Europe through science and philosophy. Comparatively, this study also shows that Christianity influenced the cultural development of medieval Asia by promoting social reform and religious freedoms.
Influence of Islam in Medieval Europe
Islam contributed to Europe’s development of scientific knowledge. By the end of the 13th century, Islam had made a lot of progress in different areas of science, including geometry, chemistry, and geology.ii Early Islam scholars transferred the same knowledge to Europe. Many European societies found this information useful.
For example, some European scholars translated Islamic literatures to Latin to enable Europeans to understand the contents of Islamic books. Historical excerpts also show how many Europeans relied on Arab doctors to treat their people. Evidences of this fact stem from the time crusaders came to medieval Europe.iii Experts predicted the knowledge transfer between Islam and Europe because Europe was hungry for knowledge at the time.
For example, many European scholars, such as the Gerard of Cremon, sought new scientific knowledge to build on their existing body of knowledge.iv Their search transcended beyond Europe (ventured into Asia) because Islamic literatures were richer in knowledge, as opposed to Christian texts. For example, Cremon found that Islamic literatures contained information on almost every subject.v
Lastly, Islam also helped to influence European mathematics in the medieval period through the works of scholars, such as Al-Khwarizmi. In line with this understanding, Corona says, the first concepts of algebra in Europe stemmed from Islamic teachings.vi Particularly, historical excerpts show that al-Khwärizmï (a Muslim scholar) had the greatest effect on the development of western algebra.vii
Modern European philosophy is a product of Islamic influences on Europe in the medieval period. For example, Baran says, early European philosophers translated Arabic philosophical literatures into English texts to understand the Islamic concepts of philosophy.viii Many Muslim scholars and philosophers, such as Avicenna, were influential in developing Christian philosophical doctrines in this regard.ix
For example, Avicenna was instrumental in developing the works of Aristotle, which influenced many European societies in the medieval period and today.x Many Islamic influences of European doctrines affected different aspects of European philosophies, including exploring the nature of the soul. Notable Islamic doctrines that influenced this thinking were Avicennism and Averroism.
In fact, Averroes, an influential Muslim philosopher, who played a key role in shaping European philosophical thought, advanced the latter concept as a key component of European ideologies. His contributions helped to explain the unity of the intellect and the essence of existence. His teachings had the most expansive influences in medieval Europe. Comprehensively, based on the Islamic origins of European philosophy, it is important to appreciate the influences of Islam on European philosophical development.
Impact of Christianity in the East
Cultural hostilities between Christians and Muslims
During the medieval period, Christian influences were limited to the establishment of a Christian population in Asia (which is slowly diminishing in present-day society) and the creation of hostilities between Muslims and Christians. The latter impact manifests today because there is a lot of animosity between Christians and Muslims (especially in the Middle East).
This outcome was among the earliest impacts of Christian crusades in the Middle East because Christians brutally massacred Muslims during the crusades. In fact, the crusades shocked the Muslim world. Even today, no form of invasion could compare to the level of destruction and widespread killings that happened during the medieval times.xi These crusades affected the “cultural psychology” of Muslims in the East because they began to perceive Christians as an occupying force (an ideology some Muslims share today).
Christianity also affected other parts of Asia by promoting religious liberalism. Historical excerpts often show that the origins of Christianity stemmed from the Middle East (Jerusalem) and spread to different parts of Asia through the influence of the apostles.xii This event led to the establishment of a minimal presence of Christianity in some dominant Asian states, such as China.
However, religious intolerance in later decades led to its significant decline. Christianity only found a lifeline when the Mongol empire ruled most parts of Asia because they were religiously tolerant of diverse faiths.xiii The philosophical teachings of Christianity further led inhabitants of the empire to tolerate diverse faiths.
This paper has already shown that there was a minimal influence of Christianity in Asia and East Asia. However, historical excerpts show how the faith acted as a catalyst for reform in Asia.xiv Most of these reforms were unfriendly. For example, Christianity brought revolutions in certain parts of Asia. Key examples of such social changes were the opposition to infanticide and the exploitation of women.xv
Part of the social change also manifested through the establishment of social institutions, such as monasteries, which served as hospitals, training grounds and places of refuge. Most of these revolutions were bloody (like the crusades). Lastly, Christianity was an instrument of social change through its architectural transfers to Asia. In the same regard, there were minimal transfers of music and Christian literatures in Asia.
Christianity did not have the same effect on Arabs and Muslims in the East as the latter did in medieval Europe. Mainly, Islam had a more profound impact on the world, as opposed to Christianity. In fact, most of the influences of Christianity in Asia have declined in the past centuries. This paper affirms this fact through the declining Christian population in the Middle East and the wider Asian region.
Similarly, this paper highlights the relation between the early influences of religion on medieval societies and the present-day understanding of religious conflicts. This study emphasized on explaining the differences in hostilities between Christian and Muslims by saying they stemmed from early Christian crusades in Asia. Overall, this paper shows that Christianity influenced medieval Asia by promoting religious freedom and social change.
A negative consequence of its crusades in Asia is the development of animosities between Christians and Muslims. Comparatively, the greatest influences of Islam in Europe are philosophical contributions and the enrichment of scientific knowledge in Europe. These dynamics show the impacts of Christianity and Islam in the medieval world.
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i John McKay, Understanding World Societies, Volume 1: A Brief History (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012), 26-34.
ii Walter Ward and Denis Gainty, Sources of World Societies, Volume 1: To 1600 (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011), 19-24.
iii Fatemeh Azinfar, Atheism in the Medieval Islamic and European World: The Influence of Persian and Arabic Ideas of Doubt and Skepticism on Medieval European Literary Thought (New York: Ibex Publishers, Inc., 2008), 101.
iv Scott Montgomery, Science in Translation: Movements of Knowledge through Cultures and Time (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 147.
vi Corona Brezina, Al-Khwarizmi: The Inventor of Algebra (New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2006), 13-26.
viii Zeyno Baran, Citizen Islam: The Future of Muslim Integration in the West (New York, NY: A&C Black, 2011), 26-27.
xi David Nicolle, The Crusades (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2001), 7-10.
xii Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 83-86.
xiii Dietmar Winkler, Hidden Treasures and Intercultural Encounters. 2. Auflage: Studies on East Syriac Christianity in China and Central Asia (New York, NY: LIT Verlag Münster, 2009), 265.
xv Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 83-86.