The Rumi Forum presented “Tolerance’s End: Religious Minorities, Philosophers, Free-Thinkers and the Rise of Fundamentalism in 12th and 13th Century Islamic Spain” with Lourdes Maria Alvarez, Acting Director of Medieval and Byzantine Studies at the Catholic University of America.

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Event Summary:

Dr. Lourdes Alvarez, Director of Medieval and Byzantine studies at the Catholic University of America, spoke about the relationships between Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Spain during the 12th and 13th century. She began her lecture by providing examples of scholars and intellectuals during this time who deepened human knowledge, appreciated creation, and aimed to service the poor. She then went on to discuss the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties which both ruled in Spain during this time, and how this affected the scholars, intellectuals and the rest of society. Both the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties used Machiavellian tactics such as forced conversions, imprisonment, and even death for the Jews, Christians, and Muslims who did not share their exact beliefs in order to gain a stronger hold on their land. While these tactics increased the Muslim population and certainly strengthened the dynasties political position for a while, in the end both dynasties were overthrown. Dr. Alvarez pointed out Machiavellian tactics such as those used in these two Berber dynasties only create a false sense of security that will never lead to permanent stability. In the end she hopes that this history will remind us to return to tolerance in its deepest meaning and to live out the words of thinkers such as Rumi in today’s world.


Lourdes Maria Alvarez is acting director of Medieval and Byzantine Studies at the Catholic University of America and an Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. A graduate of Yale University, she has published on Islamic mysticism, intellectual history and literature in medieval Spain. Her book, Abu al-Hasan al-Shushtari: Songs of Love and Devotion published by Paulist Press is forthcoming this year.

Moderator :

peterkovachPeter J. Kovach joined the Foreign Service in 1980 after teaching and working in media. He currently directs an interagency strategic communications staff at the US Department of State. Before that he was the DIplomat in Residence, Visiting Professor and Senior Fellow at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs. Kovach served in his most recent overseas posting as Counselor for Public Affairs at the American Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. There, he directed a relentless media campaign highlighting American leadership in providing relief after the October 8, 2005 Earthquake; a campaign that doubled the positive approval ratings of the United States from a similar poll taken six months earlier. He also negotiated into being the largest bilateral Fubright student program in the world.

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