Colloquium with Jonathan Brack

Muslim, Buddhist and Christian Inter-Faith Debates at the Mongol Courts (13th-14thCenturies) and the Logic(s) of Conversion
Activity Date: 
Monday, Nov 5, 2018

The paper seeks to compare and contrast the initial impressions and reports of the Franciscan missionary William of Rubruck (1220-1293) with that of the Persian vizier to the Mongol rulers of Iran (the Ilkhans), Rashid al-Din (d. 1318), on their encounters with, and disputation of, Buddhism and Buddhists, the former at the Great Khan's court in Qaraqurum, and the latter at the Mongol court in Iran. Miles and decades apart, as well as stemming from very different cultural and religious backgrounds, Catholic Europe and Muslim Iran, the Christian missionary and the Muslim vizier and historian, nevertheless, share a number of similar impressions about the Buddhists at the Mongol courts, and moreover, about how to defeat their Buddhist adversaries in the inter-religious debates that were frequently initiated and orchestrated at the Mongol courts. Both identify in their adversaries' methods of dispute a common Eurasian scholastic tradition, even if they seem mostly unappreciative of their rivals. Contrasting the two's conclusions from this experiences, and more broadly the failure of Rubruck's Christianity among the Mongols with the success of Rashid al-Din's Islam, I suggest that whereas Christianity failed to learn from the Buddhists' popularity with the Mongols, Muslims, especially the vizier Rashid al-Din, seem to have learnt a great deal form their encounters and competition with their Buddhist rivals, especially when it came to understanding how they might assimilate and convert their Mongol rulers.