New « Roman-Islam Center » approved by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for the next four years

The Roman-Islam Center in Hamburg was approved for funding on the meeting of the DFG Senate on Sept. 19, 2019. The applicants are Prof. Dr. Sabine Panzram, historian of antiquity, and Prof. Dr. Stefan Heidemann, researcher of Islam, University of Hamburg. The research project is funded for an initial period of four years and receives 4.2 million euros.  The « Roman Islam Center » is to be established by April 1, 2020. It works in collaboration with the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas de Madrid (CSIC), Casa de Velázquez – École des Hautes Etudes Hispaniques et Ibériques Madrid (EHEHI) and the Institute of the Ancient World New York (ISAW), among others. In the coming years, a total of 48 international researchers will come to Hamburg as fellows within this academic framework.

Photo: UHH/Panzram

The proposed Humanities Center is a focus for the disciplines of comparative empire studies. Its approach compares transcultural assimilation processes in the historical region of the western Mediterranean with a focus on the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa during the first millennium CE, or the so-called ‘Long Late Antiquity’, including the Early Islamic Pe-riod. The economically significant Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb were peripheral regions, both in the pagan, later Christianized Roman, and in the Islamic Empire. At the beginning of the millennium both regions were characterized by cultures, CeltIberian and what would would become known as Berber, that were influenced by Hellenistic civilization, but maintained their own, distinct characteristics. Both the Roman and the Islamic empires shaped the formation of societies, cities, administration, and landscapes. Both introduced a salvation religion, originating from the Middle East, as the state religion, but took a different approach to their social implementation (forced religious homogenization / religious albeit not equal plurality). After the end of each of the two empires, the Roman culture flourished under the Germanic leaders, as did the Islamic culture under the autonomous Umayyads and Aghlabids. While in the Iberian Peninsula the Roman-Christian element remained in evidence for centuries, despite Islamication, the previously Roman-Christian culture of North Africa (Augustine) disappeared almost entirely after two to three centuries after the Arab conquest. Here, the cultural Islamication merged with a religious Islamization. This historical situation permits the construction of theoretical models of transcultural adaptation pro-cesses in a space that, although geographically distant from the imperial centers, nonetheless continued to be of importance.

The Humanities Center will connect debates about fundamental research issues, methodology, and positions in the field of Romanization and Islamication, that have long been conducted parallel to one another, in separate disciplines. The Humanities Center will also generate new empirical information for the two research fields. From its thematic departure point of the western Mediterranean, it will also contribute new models and theories to the field of transcultural and comparative empire studies. It is precisely this combination of approaches that has the potential to break up contemporary associations of Romanization and Islamication as ‘premodern forms of colonization’. In turn, current theories and models on Transculturality and Empires can be tested for their relevance to the historical and geographical focus of this project. The discourse-oriented format of the Humanities Center, with its interplay between the individual research of the core group of researchers on the one hand, and an international fellowship program on the other, is extraordinarily suited to dynamize and restructure global discourse in this field.

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