Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Joanna Drell


The medieval Christian world is generally associated with a kind of religious zealotry that would seem to preclude the development of nuanced understandings of the religious Other. The heightened interreligious contact in regions such as Iberia and the Italian Peninsula, however, made room for relationships with members of other faiths that resulted in more developed ideas about these other creeds. This honors thesis examines the portrayal of Islam in the Christian literature of medieval Italy and Iberia, dating from the late 11th century to the middle of the 14th century. It categorizes a few types of the literary “use” of Islam, all of which extend beyond the simple expression of antipathy. Some authors used a supposed “threat” of Muslim invasion to assert the political legitimacy of Christian kings, while others used the foreignness of Islam to justify the morally-dubious actions of their patrons. Associating a political enemy with a supposed Muslim “heresy” was used as a rhetorical strategy in conflicts between Christians. Finally, some Christian authors portrayed Muslim characters in ways that betrayed a kind of admiration or even an attitude of ambivalence towards religious alterity. This thesis argues that the multiplicity of these portrayals suggests that religious difference was not always an intractable source of intercultural antipathy; instead, it could be emphasized or downplayed in order to suit an author or group’s specific situational needs.