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Fashioning Precedent: The Imperial Politics of New Christian Assimilation


This essay studies how early modern Islamic and Christian scholars who wrote about the New World theorized and historicized the relationship among legal precedent, ambassadorial convention, and imperial violence.

Kimmel, Seth. “Fashioning Precedent: The Imperial Politics of New Christian Assimilation.” Forum: Empire and Exceptionalism, edited by Andrew Devereux, Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts , vol. 5, no. 3, Feb. 2018, pp. 1–8.

Taking as a point of departure the Requerimiento, the document that sixteenth-century Spanish explorers wielded as a legal instrument of conquest and conversion in the New World, this essay studies the formulation and deployment of legal precedent across the religious and cultural boundaries. In response to scholars who have emphasized the importance of medieval Islamic models for early modern Spanish conquest in the New World, I examine rather how sixteenth and seventeenth-century Islamic scholars, such as the Morisco writer and Sa‘adī diplomat Ibn Qāsim al-Ḥajarī and the anonymous author of the Ottoman Turkish collection of translated Americana known as the Tarih-i Hind-i garbi, employed the legal arguments and violent episodes of Spanish conquest in the Americas to their own ends in the Mediterranean. In their own comments on the Requerimiento,  Bartolomé de Las Casas, Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, and other Spanish Christian scholars of the period likewise underscored the contemporary stakes of the juridical and diplomatic precedents for conquest both Iberian and American. Of primary concern to both camps was the geopolitical tensions among Christians and Muslims in the sixteenth-century Mediterranean rather than any deep awareness of each other’s medieval legal traditions.

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