Parables of Coercion

Parables of Coercion image

My first book, Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain (The University of Chicago Press, 2015), is an intellectual history of New Christian assimilation in the sixteenth century. The book argues that canon law, philology, and history writing, among other disciplines, were all transformed by hotly contested debates over eradicating Islam and Judaism from the Iberian Peninsula and converting non-Christians elsewhere in the Spanish empire.

The American Comparative Literature Association awarded Parables of Coercion the 2017 Harry Levin Prize for best first book published in the field of Comparative Literature.

Two in-depth audio interviews about the book are available online, one with Prof. SherAli K. Tareen (Franklin & Marshall) from spring 2016 at the New Books Network, and another with Prof. Nir Shafir (UCSD) on the Ottoman History Podcast, released in spring 2018.

Parables of Coercion has been reviewed in the following publications:

Comparative Literature (Alex Novikoff), Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies (Geraldine Hazbun), Speculum (Kimberly Lynn), MLN (Elizabeth Wright), Modern Philology (Ross Brann), Renaissance Quarterly (Lu Ann Homza), Hispanic Review (Claire Gilbert), Journal of Jesuit Studies (Alison Weber), and Choice Reviews Online (W. D. Phillips)

Here is a selection of what these and other readers have written about the book:

Alex Novikoff, Kenyon College (Comparative Literature)
“Kimmel is a steady and reliable guide through this dense maze of early modern authors,
ideas, and scholarly practices. Like an archaeologist dusting away the accumulated dirt on buried bones, he makes painstaking forays into sixteenth-century academic debates to unearth a bygone but vibrant world of scholarship. The consequences of these debates are not trivial either; as he reminds us, “scholarship of the early seventeenth century is the foundation upon which the edifice of early modern Hispanic studies stands today” (9).

Geraldine Hazbun, St. Anne’s College, University of Oxford (Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies)
“Kimmel’s brilliant study opens with the notion, via Pedro de Valencia, that the faith of the Moriscos is something of an epistemological double bind, being as difficult to discredit as it was to confirm. This and associated complexities permeate his study; Kimmel showcases the overarching gulf between appearance and truth, knowledge and perception, that we have come to associate with the intellectual and literary discourse of the Spanish Golden Age, but he also succeeds in holding a mirror up to the words and ideas so often used to describe the Moriscos in Spain – orthodoxy, consensus, religion – such that the contradictions and ambiguities that early modern scholars recognized in them, and took forward as drivers of disciplinary change, are revealed.”

Kimberly Lynn, Western Washington University (Speculum)
“Kimmel has produced a fine-grained and careful analysis that examines the ways that policies towards converts from Islam were both legitimated and disputed; simultaneously, he charts the significant additional work done by these arguments, setting outthe long-term intellectual transformations and contests of which they were a pivotal part.Thus his book is a valuable contribution to both the scholarship on conversion and Spain’s religious minorities and to reassessing the intellectual culture of early modern Spain, surveying the uses to which varying kinds of knowledge might be put and the shifting contours and key conflicts of early modern Spanish argumentative culture…[A] genuine contribution to the field.”

Elizabeth Wright, University of Georgia (MLN)
“Combining analytical perspectives of intellectual history and comparative literature, Seth Kimmel casts new light on the pastoral strategies and scholarly practices that theologians, church leaders, and crown officials mobilized to remove the “danger” of heresy they associated with New Christians… The anxieties tied to the study of Semitic languages anchor Chapter 3 (“Polyglot forms”), a tour-de-force of interdisciplinary research and textual analysis. Indeed, this section would be an excellent choice for the busy reader with time for just one chapter or to model scholarly inquiry in a graduate seminar….A final note of praise for the author, his editors, and outside readers for the stylish writing and coherent organization of a complex study, buttressed by thorough but concise documentation.”

Alison Weber, University of Virginia (Journal of Jesuit Studies)
Parables of Coercion
is an ambitious book of great breadth and complexity.”

Ross Brann, Cornell University (Modern Philology)
“In Parables of Coercion Kimmel succeeds wonderfully in excavating the intersection of early modern Spanish socioreligious and intellectual history and in deciphering its various discourses. He never yields to the still prevalent scholarly practice of isolating the interrelated fate of Jews and the Muslims, and crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims in the same land. Kimmel further uncovers the dialectical relationship between socioreligious discord and innovative cultural production by religious intellectuals in seventeenth-century Spain, and in the process he manages brilliantly to render meaningless the conventional, simplistic characterization of early modern Spain as a purely intolerant society. It was far more complicated during the sixteenth century afterlife of Islamic Spain than historiographical orthodoxy suggests.”

Claire Gilbert, Saint Louis University (Hispanic Review)
Throughout the book, Kimmel offers erudite readings of his texts, marshaling
an impressive range of languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, and Spanish.Having set out in his introduction his objective to explore the history of ideas about orthodoxy and heterodoxy in “Inquisitorial Spain,” Kimmel’s book demonstrates how scholarly discussions about moriscos across a range of discourses prove to be far more entangled and mutually influential than previous scholarship has recognized. Kimmel’s elegant arguments go a long way to offering alternatives to triumphalist or defeatist narratives and anachronistic paradigms that have dominated early modern Hispanic studies for decades.”

SherAli Tareen, Franklin and Marshall College (interview on the New Books Network)
Parables of Coercion
is at once beautifully written and unusually multilayered for a first book. It will also make an excellent choice for courses on Muslim-Christian relations, early modern religion, religious conversion, secularism, and Islamic Spain.”

Lu Ann Homza, College of William and Mary (Renaissance Quarterly)
“Kimmel clearly explicates a number of intricate,underappreciated contexts
for Spanish arguments about Muslim conversion and assimilation. He understands why the sacrament of baptism was viewed as binding, highlights the nexus that might be posited between dissimulation and pastoral success, and emphasizes that habit was a concept that aected mightily the way ecclesiastical figures imagined the absorption of religious minorities. He gives a wonderful exposition of the balancing act between the sacred statusof scripture over and against God’s ability to reveal new sources. He expounds scholastic method with empathy. He stresses what early modern Spaniards saw as an important distinction between the linguistic formalism of Nebrija versus the dynamic, local vision of language as espoused by Juan de Valdés. In other words, Kimmel allows his subjects to wrestle with theological concepts, and to navigate a push-pull relationship between traditional authority and what they were witnessing on the ground.”

Mercedes García-Arenal, Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, Madrid (Jacket blurb)
“This thoughtfully
 argued and innovative book deals with religious coercion and scholarly innovation. Abandoning the well-trodden path that erroneously renders Spanish forms and narratives of religious discipline only comprehensible as religious intolerance, Kimmel explores the relationship between debates about religion on the one hand and the conditions of knowledge production on the other. He focuses on the debates over the relationship between form and content, heresy of the heart and public orthodoxy of the tongue to show that it was not simply a theological or political issue. As Kimmel shows, the breach between public ritual and private faith corresponded to a second and more troubling chasm between word and meaning.”

David Nirenberg, University of Chicago (Jacket blurb)
“Kimmel has written a fascinating study of the learned cultures built out of a century of Spanish Christian intolerance toward Islam, beginning with the coerced conversion of Spain’s Muslims to Christianity in the early sixteenth century, to the expulsion of the Moriscos (as the converts and their descendants were called) in the early seventeenth. He shows us how the evolving  ‘Morisco question’ animated the emergence of disciplines such as philology, history, theology, political theory, and economics. In the process, he provides us with an alternate and disquieting history of our own scholarly, political, and religious practices.”

Suzanne Conklin Akbari, University of Toronto (Jacket blurb)
Parables of Coercion is a fascinating and important work, participating in some of the most crucial conversations now taking place within Jewish and Islamic studies, as well as at the crossroads of Iberian and New World studies. While Kimmel’s book will be read eagerly by specialists in these fields, its impact will stretch far beyond, attracting a readership interested in how we became the kind of people we are today, in terms of religion, secularism, and modernity itself.”

W. D. Phillips, University of Minnesota (In “Choice Reviews Online”)
“Serious scholars of the history of ideas will welcome this erudite and enlightening volume. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”