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Dr Krisztina Szilágyi

Religious interfaces of the medieval Middle East
Dr Krisztina Szilágyi

Research Associate

Leverhulme Early Career Fellow


I took up Hebrew on a whim as a mathematics undergraduate in Budapest. Hebrew gave me the idea of studying Arabic and eventually led to degrees in Jewish and Arabic Studies from Eötvös Loránd University. As an exchange student in Damascus, I was fascinated by the array of flourishing Christian churches in the centre of the city, an experience that sparked my initial interest in the religious maze that is the Middle East. Later the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I did an MA in Religious Studies, provided a perfect setting to explore the medieval religious world of the region. During the years I spent as a Ph.D. student at the Department of Near Eastern Studies of Princeton University, I studied Christian literary responses to the rise of Islam. My dissertation explored Eastern Christian and Muslim stories of Muhammad’s death. After another spell under the Mediterranean sun, studying Byzantine anti-Islamic literature as a fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, I arrived in the U.K. as a junior research fellow at Trinity College, and stayed on as a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the Department of Middle Eastern Studies.

Subject groups/Research projects

Arabic & Persian Studies:

Research Interests

My main interest is in the religious interfaces of the medieval Middle East, especially in the question of how Islam shaped Christianity and Judaism in its orbit and was at the same time shaped by them.

Other Professional Activities

Religious Debates in the Medieval Middle East

Course taught in the MA program Intellectual Encounters of the Islamicate World, Freie Universität Berlin:

Discussions of religious topics were a common feature of life in the medieval Middle East, in both spontaneous and organized form. Muslim notables, even caliphs, sometimes entertained and educated themselves with sessions of religious debates. For such occasions they occasionally invited not only Muslims of various theological persuasions, but others as well: Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and materialists. These encounters left manifold traces in the literary record, often as texts claiming to be straightforward reports of them.

In this course, we will study the phenomenon of debating religion in the medieval Middle East through accounts of disputations and other relevant primary sources written by Muslims, Jews and Christians. We will discuss, among other general matters, the social and intellectual context of the debates, and the technique and the education of the disputants as represented in the texts. We will devote several sessions to examining specific topics recurrent in the primary sources, such as the criteria of the true religion, the nature of God, sexual ethics and rituals. We will conclude with a glance at the changes first modernity and westernization, and more recently globalization and online communication wrought on debating religion.

Christianity in the Islamic World 

Five sessions on Christianity in the Islamic World at the International Medieval Congress held at the University of Leeds, 3-6 July 2017:

Key Publications

"A Fragment of a Composition on Physics by Abraham Ibn Daud in Judeo-Arabic: An Edition of the Text," Aleph: Historical Studies in Science and Judaism 16 (2016), pp. 33-38 (with Tzvi Langermann).
Christian Learning about Islam in the Early ‘Abbāsid Caliphate: The Muslim Sources of the Disputation of the Monk Abraham of Tiberias,” in Jens Scheiner and Damien Janos (eds.), The Place to Go: Contexts of Learning in Baghdad, 750-1000 C.E. (Princeton, N.J.: Darwin Press, 2014), pp. 267-342.
Chapter Three: The Disputation of the Monk Abraham of Tiberias,” in Samuel Noble and Alexander Treiger (eds.), The Orthodox Church in the Arab World (700-1700): An Anthology of Sources (DeKalb, Ill.: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014), pp. 90-111, pp. 300-308.
A Prophet like Jesus? The First Christian Polemical Narratives of Muhammad’s Death and Their Muslim Sources,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 36 (2009), pp. 131-171.