On 1 March, Mònica Colominas Aparicio was promoted to Professor of History of Islamic Ideas and Culture in Premodern Europe at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen. ‘Scholarly work is in fluid dialogue with society and the conversation with Muslims in Europe stands to benefit from the study of the interreligious landscape of premodern Iberia,’ says Prof. Mònica Colominas Aparicio.
Europe currently has a large population of Muslims, who have been migrating here since the 1960s, notably from Northern Africa and Turkey. From the '90s onwards, sizeable ethnic groups have been migrated here from the Middle East and elsewhere in Africa. ‘At the borders of Europe, however, in the Balkan and Iberian Peninsula, interreligious interaction and the coexistence of various religions have been facts of life for many centuries,’ explains Prof. Colominas Aparicio. The influence of Islam is, therefore, not a new phenomenon in Europe, but has been a major historical factor in shaping premodern European thought and culture along with Christianity and Judaism.
Scholars have increasingly begun highlighting the importance of the Islamic intellectual legacy in Europe. This research area benefits from a recent discovery of new data on the accommodation and participation of religious minorities in Iberia. Thanks to new research , the boundaries of premodern plural societies in the Iberian Peninsula are emerging and how they were connected to northern African regions such as Morocco. A reorientation is taking shape in a field that previously relied almost exclusively on Christian sources to write about the history of premodern and modern Europe. According to Colominas Aparicio, ‘the most recent research into Islam, focusing on its history and culture in premodern Europe, underlines the special relevance of incorporating the voices of Muslims and Islam in a field in which close collaboration between scholars from different disciplines is now more prominent than before.’ The study of Islam has changed significantly in the twenty-first century and has moved away from the assumptions provided by, for example, Orientalism. A more specific orientation is now recognized, which benefits from perspectives and methods drawn from the humanities and social sciences. ‘We want to contribute to this important research by using an integrated conceptual and archival approach by mapping, analysing, and disseminating as yet unexplored data from archival sources and texts,’ adds Prof. Colominas Aparicio.
Colominas Aparicio’s research and teaching focuses on the medieval to early modern period in key regions for the study of Islam in Europe, such as the Iberian Peninsula (now Spain and Portugal), where Muslims were present until well into the first decades of the seventeenth century. Colominas Aparicio explains that their aim ‘is to gain a balanced understanding of continuity and change in the significant processes marking the history of Islam in Europe.’ A well-informed background of the history of Islam and culture in premodern Europe provides the necessary context and aids in forming an accurate picture of the lasting impact of such events on European society, culture, and politics.
According to Colominas Aparicio, ‘the pluralistic intellectual, religious, and cultural landscape in Europe cannot be understood without premodern ideas about and within Islam. There is an entire legacy of debates and encounters that have shaped that interaction. We need to have more attention for and research into the longstanding presence of Muslims in Europe in areas shared with Christians and Jews’. Colominas Aparicio is convinced that the avenues of research and teaching that will open up in the Faculty thanks to her new position will serve to enhance the understanding of the role of Islam in Europe in its relation to Christianity and also to Judaism, which promises to have not only academic relevance but also a broad societal impact.
Originally hailing from Barcelona, Colominas Aparicio is an Arabist and a scholar of religion who specializes in Muslim minorities and religious diversity in premodern Iberia. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees with honours in Arabic Language and Culture at the University of Amsterdam and holds a PhD from the Department of Religious Studies of the same university. She received the PhD Dissertation Award for her dissertation from the Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (UvA) in 2016.
For Colominas Aparicio, research does not take place in isolation: ‘Two interrelated understandings guide my academic compass: one is the conviction that scholarly work, rather than being detached, is in fluid dialogue with society and its various stakeholders; the other is the idea that the specialists’ knowledge (in my case, Islam) benefits from an interdisciplinary perspective.’ Her resume includes ample evidence of interdisciplinary collaborations. She worked as a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG) in Berlin as a core member of the interinstitutional project Convivencia: Iberian to Global Dynamics, 500-1750, and she remains affiliated with the institute. Colominas Aparicio has also been an external member of CORPI (Conversion, Overlapping, Religiosity, Polemic, and Interaction) at the CSIC (Centro Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) in Madrid, a Frankel Fellow at the University of Michigan, and a teaching fellow at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas in Tel Aviv. Recently, Colominas Aparicio has become a member of the Spanish-funded international project SIDE-Cultures and, more importantly, she has acquired a Veni grant from the Dutch Research Council (NWO). ‘My current Veni project looks at the conditions of Christians and Jews under Iberian Muslim rule (Al-Andalus) and particularly benefits from collaboration with disciplines such as Judaism, Christianity, legal studies, and history.’ Colominas Aparicio also holds a degree in Classical Guitar from the Conservatorium van Amsterdam.
In 2020, Colominas Aparicio joined the Executive Board of the Netherlands Interuniversity School for Islamic Studies (NISIS) and in 2022, she joined the Editorial Board of Brill’s book series The Iberian Religious World. She is the review editor of Brill’s journal Medieval Encounters.
Colominas Aparicio’s various publications include a monograph published by Brill (2018) on the corpus of Muslim polemical literature in the peninsular Christian territories titled The Religious Polemics of the Muslims of Late Medieval Iberia. Identity and Religious Authority in Mudejar Islam.
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