“Understanding is the basis for open dialog,” stated the president of Freie Universität Berlin, Professor Peter-André Alt, as he welcomed the large audience. This in turn requires knowledge about history. A new, well-founded assessment of the intellectual history of Islam and more knowledge about the possibilities for productive and peaceful coexistence between religions are “essential for the future of the globalized world.”
The director of the research unit, Sabine Schmidtke, a professor of Islamic studies at Freie Universität, described the close symbiosis between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian thought in the Islamic world since the Middle Ages. Professor Annette Schavan, the German Federal Minister of Education and Research, stated at the opening that she expects the new research unit will add momentum to the development of a rational perception of Islam. “A comprehensive view of the intellectual history of Islam from the Middle Ages to modern times is crucial for the self-understanding of Islam as well as for the perception of Islam in the West and the relationship between the two.”
An Appropriate Setting for the Ceremony
The Mschatta Hall in the Museum of Islamic Art in the Pergamon Museum was an appropriate setting for the opening ceremony of the research unit. The Mschatta Hall contains an ornate facade of a desert palace from the eighth century (present-day Jordan). The intricately designed building symbolizes the complexity of the Islamic world of the Middle Ages, and it was an impressive and fitting backdrop for the presentations.
International Network in the Middle East, Europe, and North America
The diverse academic perspectives of the presenters reflect the various disciplines covered by the members of the research unit. Working in the Middle East, Europe, and North America, they are scholars of Islamic studies, Jewish studies, and Christian Orientalism. They aim to make a joint effort to overcome the current division between Muslim and non-Muslim research on Islam. Both Muslims and non-Muslims, they intend to examine the intellectual richness and cultural diversity that have characterized the Islamic world since the Middle Ages. The group endeavors to overcome traditional disciplinary boundaries, and the various faiths of Islamic societies represented by its members will also play a role. With this approach Sabine Schmidtke and her team will be working in the tradition of the scholars whose ideas they are investigating. Schmidtke is looking forward to working with the multireligious team. “We find it important to emphasize that pluralistic social models are not a new invention, but rather, existed in the Islamic world for centuries. Since the Middle Ages, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian thinkers have been influencing each other.”