REL 420
Islam and the Image Fall 2023
Division II Writing Skills Difference, Power, and Equity
Cross-listed ARTH 521
This is not the current course catalog

Class Details

This seminar responds to a recent incident at a US liberal arts university where a professor was sacked for showing images of Prophet Muhammad as part of her section on Islamic art. Why is image-making so hotly contested in Islam? What is the history of figural depictions in this tradition? The seminar explores artworks made for Muslim patrons from the medieval period to the modern era, considering how paintings produced for Muslim audiences can be situated within the frameworks of “Islamic art,” a loaded historiographical term that has been questioned in recent times. The seminar also addresses some of the major problems that continue to haunt art scholarship in the field. For most of its history, the academic study of Islamic art has seldom considered contemporaneous literary voices that shed light on the motivations behind artworks. Furthermore, the historiography, deeply entrenched in its colonial and orientalist roots, has largely isolated images from their supporting texts–a curious oversight in light of the fact that painting in Muslim lands has historically been primarily an art of the book. These biases have affected the way museums have collected, displayed and interpreted paintings. For example, Western museums continue to place figural depictions made for books and albums in “South Asian” collections while textual manuscripts and calligraphic specimens made for the same Muslim audiences–even at times bound in the same albums–are categorized as “Islamic art.” What does this isolation of text from image imply about prevailing views of Islamic art? To better understand the cultural, historical and religious context surrounding artworks students will read primary literature ranging from autobiography to devotional poetry, often written by the very patrons and subjects of the paintings to be discussed.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 19
Expected: 12
Class#: 1526
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: class participation, short weekly writing assignments, final essay project
Prerequisites: Undergraduates wishing to enroll must have taken at least one art history course or one religious studies course. Undergraduates must email indicating their interest in the course prior to enrolling.
Enrollment Preferences: MA students, then advanced undergraduates
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills Difference, Power, and Equity
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
REL 420 Division II ARTH 521 Division I
WS Notes: Weekly writing assignments consisting of 300-500 words. Final papers 15-20 pages for graduate students. 12-15 pages for undergraduate students. 1-page abstract for the final paper due by mid-November. A 4-5 page project outline due right after Thanksgiving break. After receiving feedback and comments from the instructor, the final paper will be due in the last week of classes.
DPE Notes: Highlights a global art history that is underrepresented. The class focuses on pluralistic engagements with non-Western cultures and epistemologies.
Attributes: ARTH pre-1800

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