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VIRTUAL - The Shock of the New? Writing and the Propagation of Religious Ideology in early Islam

October 21, 2021 @ 7:30 pm PDT Pacific Time

This is an online event.

AIA Society: Salem

Lecturer: Marcus Milwright

The prominent role played by writing in the visual cultures of the Islamic world is, of course, well known. Ornamental scripts adorn buildings and objects of all periods from the seventh century to the present. Writing functions in these contexts both as a carrier of meaning and as an object of aesthetic interest in its own right. There can be little doubt that the Muslim community recognized the power and visual potential of the written word from an early stage. The first monumental inscriptions appear in the 640s, a little more than a decade after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and reach a high level of sophistication in the mosaic decoration of the Dome of the Rock in the 690s. The talk reviews this fascinating assemblage of early inscriptions, concentrating particularly on the inclusion of explicitly religious content. This content ranges from pious phrases to statements of faith and citations from the Qur’an. These inscriptions appear on rock inscriptions, documents, coins, seals, and architecture. The talk will ask how and why scripture and statements of faith were first incorporated into Islamic monumental inscriptions, comparing the strategies employed by early Muslims to those of other faith communities of the Late Antique Middle East. The talk will argue that early Muslims were influenced by the practices of each conquered region, and that this accounts for significant differences in the manner in which inscriptions are used across the Islamic empire between the seventh and the tenth centuries.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Alain George, The Rise of Islamic Calligraphy (London and Berkeley CA: Saqi, 2010).

Oleg Grabar, The Shape of the Holy. Early Islamic Jerusalem (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Robert Hoyland, ‘New documentary texts and the early Islamic state’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 69.3 (2006), pp. 395-416.

Michael Macdonald, ed., The Development of Arabic as a Written Language, Supplement to the Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 40 (Oxford: Seminar for Arabian Studies and Archaeopress, 2010).

Marcus Milwright, The Dome of the Rock and its Umayyad Mosaic Inscriptions (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016).

Bilha Moor, ‘Mosque and church: Arabic inscriptions at Shivta in the early Islamic period,’ Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 40 (2013), pp. 73-141.

For many of the inscriptions discussed in the talk:

Forsyth Lecture

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October 21, 2021
7:30 pm PDT
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Scott Pike


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