Tag Archives: Jews

So you have a research project – where to start?

When you’re beginning a research project from scratch and you don’t have enough background information, the best place to start are the well-known reference and introductory works on the subject.

These types of work have many titles: encyclopedias, companions, textbooks, dictionaries, bibliographies, lexicons, introductions, primers, handbooks, key to… etc.

Encyclopedias are usually the best place to start, as they have the most detailed level of research among reference works. Articles within them are supposed to be “a repository of all known facts,” i.e. a current overview of everything known on a given topic. They distill vast bodies of secondary research into a small space to make it easier for you to see the big picture.

Encyclopedias tend to range from very broad (i.e. Encyclopedia of Islam) to more specialized and specific (i.e. Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World). If you don’t know a lot already, you want to begin with the general topics and work your way into more specific materials. Imagine you are trying to find a little café in New York City. First, you might need to look at a map of the whole city, then at a map of Manhattan, then of a map of Uptown, and then a map of the subway. Same thing with encyclopedias and references.

While encyclopedias ought to be neutral, scholarship often advances from a relative viewpoint. You might notice that some encyclopedias lean towards various positions. That’s why it’s always a good idea to refer to multiple reference sources.

Sometimes the field of scholarship advances quickly and a new work appears at the time the reference encyclopedia was published. Keep in mind that recently published sources might not account for a year or two of secondary literature published after its writing. Even old encyclopedias have value as you can trace the intellectual history of a concept.

Take note, however, that reference works are usually not cited in academic papers. They’re mostly used for getting you up to speed on a topic.

Today, the most important references are online. My particular favorite is Oxford Islamic Studies, but all of them are generally good resources. Here are some of the go-to references in Islamic Studies:

Take a look at our Middle East Studies Research Guide for even more!

Mark R. Cohen on Jews in the Muslim Middle Ages

Under Crescent and Cross Mark CohenThe Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other conflicts involving Jews and Muslims have the tendency to produce polemical views claiming the current animosity is simply a manifestation of age-old religious hatreds and prejudice. On the other hand, some have tried to counter this view by claiming Jews and Muslims historically coexisted peacefully in an ideal interfaith utopia. But which view is closer to the facts?

Professor Mark Cohen of Princeton University, who was a guest instructor at NYUAD last year, wrote a landmark study on this topic entitled Under Crescent and Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages comparing the treatment of medieval minority Jewish communities in Muslim and Christian majority states through the lens of social anthropological theory. Rejecting the polemical and apologetic views, Professor Cohen demonstrates that relations between Jews and Muslims of the Middle Ages, though not utopic, were less confrontational and violent than their counterparts in Christendom.

The work struck a chord in the global discourse, having been translated into Turkish, Hebrew, German, Arabic, French, and Spanish. It is one of the best resources to approach to this topic, not only for scholars and specialists, but for those interested in the historical precedents of modern peaceful coexistence.