INTRODUCTION  pp. 1-5


By Nora Berend

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Twentieth-century events and concerns have fostered interest in the treatment of social and religious minorities in the past. As a consequence, medievalists have also set out to unravel both what was perceived or constructed as difference, and how groups regarded as different were treated. These studies have started to reveal the complexity of non-Christian positions in the Middle Ages. The analysis of the place of Jews in medieval Europe, for example, modified not only the interpretation of Jewish history, abandoning its ‘lachrymose conception’, but also that of the dynamics of state formation and of developments within Christian theology and practice in medieval society. The debate about the role and function of non-Christians in medieval Spanish history has enriched our understanding of Spanish culture. There has been both an efflorescence of case-studies on local interaction between Christians and non-Christians in regions such as Spain, Sicily or Scandinavia, and an increased interest in a comparative perspective: thus, comparison between the situation of Jews under Christian and under Muslim rule has yielded insight into the origins of the persecution of Jews. New approaches have created new debates as well, on the nature of medieval society, on the ‘other’, on ethnicity.

This book compares the fate of three groups, Jews, Muslims and ‘pagan’ Cumans, in medieval Hungary. Its aim is twofold: first, to present a case-study that contributes to our knowledge about non-Christian populations living in medieval Europe, integrating non-western European developments into analyses of the medieval world; second, to examine a variety of issues relating to the position of religious minorities in what was, as I argue in chapter 1, a frontier society.

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