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Talk: Professor Marcus Milwright, “The Shock of the New? Writing and the Propagation of Religious Ideology in early Islam”
November 5, 2019 @ 13:00 - 14:30
Tue 5 Nov, 6pm
G.06, 50 George Square
University of Edinburgh
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.
Sponsored by History of Art, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and Islamic and Middle East Studies at the University of Edinburgh, the lecture is free and open to all and will be followed by a reception.