3 May 2024 Mughal '25 Investigates Judaism in Medieval Spain

Abroad experience offers chance to explore cultural sites that highlight religion’s prominence and erasure. 

With funding from the Padnos Family Endowed Internship and Travel Award, Sophia Mughal ’25 explored the presence of Jewish life in Medieval Spain and the country’s work to reclaim its Jewish past. 

A statue in Cordoba, Spain of the Rambam, or Maimondes, a highly influential 12th Century Jewish thinker

During her experience, Mughal traveled across Spain exploring Jewish sites including the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue and the Sephardic Museum in Toledo; and the Museu d’Història dels Jueus in Girona, discovering the erasure of Jewish history and culture in Spain following a period of relative coexistence between Spanish Christians, Muslims and Jews from 711-1492, but also the country’s work to bring that history back into the common consciousnesses. 

During this period of Islamic rule in Spain, Mughal notes, saw more tolerance for Jews than under Christendom in Europe elsewhere but, beginning at the end of the 14th century and into the 15th century during what is know as the Christian "Reconquista," violent actions taken against Jews increased in the region, culminating with the forced conversion of Jews of Spain and the expulsion of Jews in 1492. 

“This trip has given me the opportunity not only to learn about the history of the Sepharad,” a Jewish diaspora from the Iberian Peninsula, “but to delve into the complexities and nuances of Spain’s memory project and see firsthand the subtle remnants of Jewish life in Spain,” writes Mughal. “Each city—Toledo, Segovia, Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada, Barcelona and Girona—displayed specific details and larger trends that painted a fuller picture of Jewish life.”

She notes from a trip to Toledo and Cordoba “that Jewish history, though mostly destroyed, was not totally erased—traces remained, if you know where to look and what for. Many things that were once outwardly Jewish during the relative period of tolerance under Islamic rule were repurposed and hiding—sometimes in plain sight—their original Jewish past.”

The Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue in Toledo, Spain

Mughal is a political science and religious studies double major. She serves as president of William Smith Congress, a Community Assistant, co-captain of the William Smith Club Ice Hockey team and a Writing Colleague. She also works for the Human Rights and Genocide Symposium at HWS.

The Padnos Family Endowed Internship and Travel Award supports HWS students interested in conducting research or completing an internship abroad. The award covers lodging, air travel and a stipend