Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Thomas E. Burman

Committee Members

Maura K. Lafferty, Jay C. Rubenstein, Alison M. Vacca


For nearly two centuries after the First Crusade, a Latin-Christian elite controlled significant parts of the eastern Mediterranean, home to a diverse array of Christians, Muslims, and Jews. While seemingly a rich context for inter-religious cultural exchange, the dominant historical narrative has called this society a form of “proto-Apartheid,” with Frankish rulers successfully erecting impermeable boundaries between themselves and their largely Arabic-speaking subjects.This dissertation challenges this narrative through an investigation of the life and work of William of Tripoli, a thirteenth-century Dominican born in modern Lebanon, who spent his career evangelizing Muslims from a priory in Akko (Acre, Israel). William wrote two treatises on Islam that have been called “peculiar,” because of their positive portrayal of both the Qurʾān and the Prophet Muḥammad, but have not otherwise been integrated into our understanding of the cultural milieu of the Latin East.argue that the “peculiar” elements in William’s work were borrowed from Arabic-Christian and Muslim sources, and that his entire rhetorical approach to Islam was informed by them. Through a contextualization of his work, I show that the religious, cultural, and social barriers of the Latin East were far more permeable than prior scholarship has acknowledged. Living and working alongside Muslims and eastern Christians cultivated within the Franks of the Latin East a uniquely Latin Eastern perspective. This was defined, above all, by the mental and emotional flexibility to interact with one’s neighbors from different sectarian communities in any of the ways that the context required, even while disagreeing with them in a broad, religious sense. William of Tripoli is the best written example we have of this perspective. He sought a pia interpretatio, or a pious interpretation of the Qurʾān, two centuries before this term was coined, because personal engagement with Islam had convinced him this was the best way to accomplish his missionary goals.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."