I just finished a new alternative history novel written by Harry Turtledove. I definitely recommend it…even though there’s no dramatic conclusion to it. Plenty of drama, lots of action, good character development…but no major wrap-up of an overriding theme.
Alternative histories are tales that explore what-might-have-beens had some critical event gone a different way. In this case, it was Thomas Aquinas, St. Aquinas, who, rather than trying to incorporate Aristotelian rationality into Christianity, rejected rational discourse in favor of maintaining faith. Because Al-Ghazali, a corresponding figure in the Muslim world, elevated the importance of rational discourse, the modern scientific, rational, increasingly secular world grew out of the Muslim kingdoms rather than their European counterparts.
By what was in effect our time, it’s the Muslim world that has to deal with European dictatorships, barely functional European states, European refugees and immigrants seeking a better life, European suicide bombers, etc.
If this road not taken sounds a bit arcane, you have to remember that Turtledove was at one time (and may still be) a professor of Byzantine history. He is intimately familiar with how the various Mediterranean/Western societies evolved. Some of his earliest alternative history tales are set in a world where the Byzantine Empire never fell…because Mohammed, later Saint Mohammed, became a devout Christian, rather than the founder of Islam.
All in all a fascinating speculation on what can happen when rationalism is rejected or accepted, regardless of a society’s underlying religious orientation.