Thinking About Sacred Time in Medieval Societies of the Middle East

Workshop organized by Johannes Pahlitzsch, Youval Rotman, Daniella Talmon-Heller.

This workshop will explore notions of sacred time by comparing cases within the different religions and cultures of the pre-modern Middle East. The idea that time is not homogenous – that some moments, days, or months are privileged than others, and the sanctification of such times by special rites – seems to be a universal cultural phenomenon. Yet, the construction of time as sacred, the choice of the specific time units to set apart, and the means by which these are distinguished from profane time, are diverse and dynamic, and should be studied within their historical-cultural contexts.

Generally, sacred times are acknowledged in calendars that regulate routine religious devotions, feasts, fasts, pilgrimage, commemorations, and other types of ritual worship at regular intervals (such as the Sabbath, Ramadan, saint-days and anniversaries). Astrological events, such as the winter solstice, or the change of seasons, and significant natural phenomena (such as the flooding of the Nile) were also regarded as religiously potent, as are certain moments in the life-cycle of the individual, or the history of the community. Sacred time can also be sporadic and singular, tied to occasional events and situations that mark divine intervention, or call for it.

Manifestations of sacred time play an important role in the formation of communal identity, and in community-life. Yet, traditions of sacred time appear not only as demarcations between groups, but can also be a product of acculturation and within inter-faith dynamics. They create what can be termed ‘ritual coherence’ on the one hand, and produce inter-religious conflicts, due to clashing concepts of sacred time and different calendars, especially between groups who shared the same geographical space, on the other hand.

Another issue that needs to be addressed in respect to sacred time is its relation to a global perception of time and history. More specifically we would like to ask how the scheduling of sacred time in the life of a community serves as means to place what can be termed ‘human sacred time’ within the framework of a ‘cosmic sacred time.’ This is especially important in the celebration of historical events, thus making the history of a particular community sacred.

In the workshop we are suggesting, we wish to investigate the different meanings assigned to privileged time, and practices marking sacred time, in the late antique and medieval Middle East. Special focus will be given to the conceptualization of sacred time in theological, legal and devotional works, and to debates and questions pertaining to the sanctity of specific times. We would like to address the following questions: How could we conceptualize and identify the notion of sacred time in medieval societies? How was the notion of sacred time constructed in specific historical and cultural contexts? Which needs, of both individuals and communities, call for defining sacred time? What functions did it fill, and in what ways?


Leibniz-WissenschaftsCampus Mainz, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, Zentrum für Interkulturelle Studien, GRK Frühe Konzepte von Mensch und Natur: Universalität, Spezifität, Tradierung



Floor Mosaic of the Synagogue of Beit Alpha

Floor Mosaic of the Synagogue of Beit Alpha

Floor Mosaic of the Synagogue of Beit Alpha

Buchmalerei mit Szenen aus dem Leben Christi aus dem Menologion Basileos II. (Vat. gr. 1613, p. 271; Abb. : Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. Liturgie und Andacht im Mittelalter, Köln 1992, S. 119).

11. Juli 2016

Infobox | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Jakob-Welder-Weg 9
55128 Mainz


12. Juli 2016

RGZM | Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum
im Kurfürstlichen Schloss
Ernst-Ludwig-Platz 2
55116 Mainz




Public lecture

Divina Manolova (Edinburgh) "Redefining Exactness in Late Byzantine Astronomy"

on 12th July, 6 pm
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität
Jakob-Welder-Weg 12
55128 Mainz