Islamic Aesthetics and Design

Started on 2 March 2023

Islamic Sacred Art and Architecture: Practice, Ethics, and Aesthetics

This course is designed to explore the art and architecture of the Islamic world, and the multiple contextual determinants - theological, mystical, cultural, political, or otherwise - that shape Islamic material culture.

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General Info

  • Course Category: Islamic Aesthetics and Design
  • Course Format: Online
  • Dates: February 1 – March 7, 2024
  • Time: Thursdays 7 PM UTC (90-minute sessions)
  • Instructor: Dr. Bilal Badat
  • Language requirement: Knowledge of English.
  • Experience: Participants with all levels of knowledge are invited to join the class.
  • Readings: Readings will be distributed to the participants’ emails. Participants should prepare for classes by reading the recommended texts. Participants are also encouraged to participate in classes with questions and answers, and actively engage in debates.

About the Course

Islamic Art and Architecture: Practice, Ethics, and Aesthetics

This course is designed to explore the art and architecture of the Islamic world, and the multiple contextual determinants – theological, mystical, cultural, political, or otherwise – that shape Islamic material culture.

Through an analysis of selected monuments and objects, participants will not only cultivate a deeper understanding of transformations in art and architecture in the Islamic world from the 7th to the 20th centuries, but also examine the cultural legacy of Islamic art in today’s world. The inextricable connections between Islamic art and architecture and religion, culture, and politics are explored through a variety of topics, including architectural monuments, calligraphy, arts of the book (including miniature painting, bookbinding, and illumination), ceramics, textiles, and other forms of decorative art.

This course also explores the lives and perspectives of architects and craftsmen, seeking to understand the meaning and role of beauty, ethics, and aesthetics in the production of Islamic art. This is achieved through a participatory discussion of treatises on art and architecture written by Muslim architects, calligraphers, and chroniclers throughout Islamic history. 

Objectives and Transferable Skills

  • Students who complete this course should acquire the following by attending seminars and by engaging with primary and secondary sources:
  • A deeper understanding of the origin and development of Islamic art and architecture and material culture.
  • The ability to analyse works of Islamic art in ways that consider the complex interrelationships between visual character, context, function, and symbolic form.
  • A studied awareness of the approaches, literature, and debates on Islamic art and architecture.
  • The ability to analyse works of Islamic art and architecture with descriptive vocabulary and critical use of language.

This course also explores the lives and perspectives of architects and craftsmen, seeking to understand the meaning and role of beauty, ethics, and aesthetics in the production of Islamic art. This is achieved through a participatory discussion of treatises on art and architecture written by Muslim architects, calligraphers, and chroniclers throughout Islamic history. 

Schedule

Week 1: Islamic Art, and Architecture: Beauty, Ethics, and Aesthetics

This opening lecture provides an overview of the origins and development of Islamic art and architecture from the 7th century to the medieval period, dwelling particularly on the architecture of the Ka’ba and foundational Mosque of the Prophet’s in Medina.

This opening lecture also aims to draw attention to the nature of the beautiful in relationship to God, art, and architecture. The questions to be addressed include the following: Can art be religious? What is the relationship between Islamic art, aesthetics, and spirituality? In what way does Islamic art serve a purpose that includes morality and religion?

Week 2: The Formation of Islamic Art and Architecture

In this lecture students will embark on a comprehensive study of iconic structures like the Dome of the Rock, the Great Mosque of Damascus, and the Great Mosque of Cordoba, unravelling the artistic and cultural significance behind their creation.

Moreover, the week’s focus extends to the city of Baghdad during the Abbasid era, offering valuable insights into its architecture and urban planning. Furthermore, the course will delve into the intriguing concept of the ‘Sunni Revival’ during the Medieval period, shedding light on the socio-political and religious dynamics that shaped this pivotal period in Islamic history.

Week 3: Islamic Art and Architecture: Symbolism and Sacred Space

The second lecture explores the development of Islamic art from the 15th century to the present, with a particular focus (but not exclusively) on the Ottoman period.

We examine the ambitious building schemes undertaken by Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and examine the life and works of the architect Mimar Sinan, whose incredible achievements in architecture came to define the Classical Period of the Ottoman Empire. Together, we will examine Sinan’s autobiography, and explore the fascinating ways in which Sinan created and curated sacred space.

Week 4:  Islamic Calligraphy

Throughout Islamic history the Qur’an has inspired a diversity of artistic responses across a wide variety of social, religious, and political contexts. These individual responses coalesced into the artistic trinity of calligraphy, illumination, and bookbinding, a trinity which evolved over both time and space to engender works of extraordinary beauty, power, and magnificence.

Of these, calligraphy held pride of place in Islamic society, superseding all other artistic traditions in the aesthetic, epistemological, and spiritual hierarchy of the craft traditions. This lecture explores the reception of calligraphy as both an artistic and religious body of knowledge, examining the historical development of calligraphy during the Islamic period, as well as the rituals and spiritual practices that emerged around it.

Week Five: Exchange between Europe and the Muslim World

In the fifth week of this course, students will explore the intricate web of exchange between Europe and the Muslim world. This topic unravels the profound cross-cultural influences that existed between these two spheres, leaving an indelible mark on the art and architecture of both regions.

Through a comprehensive analysis of historical interactions, trade routes, and cultural exchanges, students will gain a deeper understanding of the transformative power of intercultural influence. 

Week Six: Islamic Art Today

This lecture examines Islamic architecture from the early 20th century, exploring the conscious co-option by architects in the Muslim world of diverse forms to craft new styles developed in response to the shifting cultural and political contexts of modernity.

We also examine the legacy of Islamic art and architecture in the world today and explore the role of tradition and innovation in contemporary practice. 

Student Learning Objective and Transferable Skills

  • Students who complete this course should acquire the following by attending seminars and by engaging with primary and secondary sources:
  • A deeper understanding of the origin and development of Islamic art and architecture and material culture.
  • The ability to analyze works of Islamic art in ways that consider the complex interrelationships between visual character, context, function, and symbolic form.
  • A studied awareness of the approaches, literature, and debates on Islamic art and architecture.
  • The ability to analyze works of Isl

Our Instructor

Bilal Badat is an archaeologist and art historian specializing in Islamic art and architecture history. His research interests include the history of Islamic calligraphy in the Persianate world, Islamic manuscript culture, Islamic aesthetics, and Islamic education and pedagogy.

Bilal completed his master’s in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of Oxford. He wrote his doctorate on pedagogy and style in Islamic calligraphy at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. To support his research, Bilal studied calligraphy in Istanbul for over five years under master calligrapher Efdaluddin Kılıç, obtaining his calligraphic license, or ijazah, in the thuluth and naskh scripts in 2017.

Bilal came to the Center of Islamic Theology as a Teacher at Tübingen fellow in 2017/2018. He was the principal investigator in an AIWG-funded project entitled ‘Beauty and Islamic Theology’ (2020-21), which aimed to explore the rich and diverse relationships between theology, art, and aesthetics in the Islamic world. He has also lectured on Islamic art and architecture at the University of St. Andrews and the University of Tubingen, where he offered modules entitled ‘Early and Medieval Islamic Art and Architecture,’ ‘Art and Architecture of the Ottoman and Persianate World,’ ‘Beauty and Islamic Theology: Art, Ethics, and Aesthetics,’ ‘Formation of Character: Adab, Akhlaq, and Futuwwa,’ and ‘Persianate Manuscript Culture.’ Bilal is a research fellow at the University of Tubingen and works as a specialist curator of Islamic art. He also offers consultancy services for Islamic heritage and museum projects, projects in the cultural sector, and Islamic architecture and design.

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