June 26, 2018

Professor Heather Sharkey Publishes New Book, A History of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East

Dr. Heather Sharkey, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and affiliate of the Middle East Center at University of Pennsylvania, has recently published a well received book entitled A History of Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Middle East. Sharkey argues that while these groups are often associated in the modern era with sectarian conflict, they also have a long and complex history of mutual interaction and exchange. Her book examines societies in the Ottoman Empire prior to World War I, at a time when Christian and Jewish communities in the Middle East were more numerous than they are today. Central to her book is an attempt to “unlearn” the common idea that Muslim-Jewish tensions are historically rooted and longstanding; while social hierarchies and inequalities did exist, “relations between Muslims, Jews, and Christians were calm in most places and times.” Sharkey also explores how tensions increased and exploded in the pre-war era, as non-Muslims began to subscribe to ideas of citizenship and civil rights, which created a backlash from mainstream Muslim society. Connections between Western powers and non-Muslim religious minorities only served to exacerbate these tensions. Eventually they led to a series of religious and ethnic conflicts and massacres, such as the mass killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in the 1890s, an event that many today refer to as the Armenian genocide. All of this led to the emergence of modern nation-states that were far less religiously diverse than they had been in the past.

Congratulations, Dr. Sharkey!