our words make worlds

Travelling Concepts Research

The history of Iberia, as originator and product of global colonization, constitutes a workshop for interrogating fundamental concepts of contemporary liberal-democratic societies. The ‘Iberianate venture’ embraces the ‘Al-Andalus’ syndrome (Islamic Andalusia as a model of tolerant co-existence between Christians, Muslims and Jews), the Iberian ‘Black legend’ (repressive Inquisitorial Catholicism, imperial brutality, economic backwardness), and Sefarad (an ambiguous place of home and exile for Iberian Jews).

‘Iberianate’ means understanding Al-Andalus, Iberia, and Sefarad as chronotopes, places in time that transcend their originary geographic location to become literary tropes of global reach, from Arabic to Chinese, from Brazil to Turkey. We approach these chronotopes as ‘combat concepts’ (Ian Hunter's coinage), whereby terms used to advance competing religious and political programmes are separated from their historical referent and lack any fixed theoretical meaning. They become figures of thought that help societies to represent their worlds through the imaginative engagement with another. Thus, contended narratives of al-Andalus/ Sefarad/ Iberia are today as much about the historical past as they are about the possibilities of the future, as much times and places lived and remembered between myth and nostalgia as metaphors and repertoires in the contemporary culture wars of twenty-first century religious pluralism and inter-cultural creativity. The critical analysis of the travels of al-Andalus/Sefarad/Iberia through time and space contributes much to cultural and political understanding and dialogue over the legacies of the past.

Drawing on postcolonial theories and cultural semantics, we investigate the cultural and political traction of these chronotopes in Christian, Muslim and Sephardic worlds, within Europe and beyond, interrogating the role played by nationalism and regionalism, orientalism and colonialism, exile and migration.