Imagining Antiquity in Islamic Societies (Book)

Long before the Taliban, ISIS and other iconoclasts, Muslims imagined localities of antiquity as places imbued with didactic, historical and moral power. In thirteen articles by leading scholars covering the eighth century to the present, this book explores diverse ways Muslims have valued the material legacies of ancient and pre-Islamic societies. 118 b/w illus.

Category: Architecture, Regional


The tragic destruction of cultural heritage performed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq is often superficially explained as an attempt to stamp out idolatry or as a fundamentalist desire to revive and enforce a return to a purified monotheism. Analyses like these posit that there is an "Islamic" manner of imagining the past and that the iconoclastic actions of terrorist organizations are one, albeit extreme, manifestation of an assumedly pervasive and historically ongoing Islamic antipathy toward images and pre-contemporary holy localities. However, this is not the full picture. This book explores the diverse ways Muslims have engaged with the material legacies of ancient and pre-Islamic societies, as well as how Islam’s heritage has been framed and experienced over time. Long before the emergence of ISIS and other so-called Islamist iconoclasts, Muslims imagined Islamic and pre-Islamic antiquity and its localities in myriad ways: as sites of memory, spaces of healing, or places imbued with didactic, historical, and moral power.

Stephennie Mulder is associate professor in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Texas, Austin.

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