Department of History
Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Project: Manuscripts of a Mediterranean Polemic
Alison Vacca uses Arabic and Armenian sources to explore the circumstances of Islamic rule in the medieval Caucasus and Muslim-Christian relations in the Islamic world. During her time at the UT Humanities Center, she will be working on an annotated translation, edition, and analysis of a purported epistolary exchange between the leader of the Islamic world, the Umayyad caliph ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (r. 717 – 720), and the leader of the Christian East, the Byzantine emperor Leo the Isaurian (r. 717 – 741). Five versions of the ʿUmar-Leo correspondence exist today in Arabic, Armenian, Aljamiado (Romance or Spanish in Arabic alphabet), and Latin. They form a distinct set of texts that range from the southern Caucasus, across Syria, into the Sinai, and through Spain and the south of France. They demonstrate that Muslims and Christians engaged in in-depth discussions about topics like the divinity of Jesus, the nature of Scripture, and the veneration of icons. Rather than seeing such religious polemics as proof of religious antagonism, these letters demonstrate sustained discussion and a broad education about religious matters. Christian authors cite the Qurʾān and hadīth
(sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and Muslim authors similarly demonstrate knowledge of Christian scripture.