Spring 2020 REL 278 Islamic City

 Walking around on campus, have you ever stopped to wonder how one would study Davidson’s culture and life? What if you were to consider its space, art, and architecture as a window into the community? As one might at Davidson, in this course, to understand Islamic societies and their inhabitants, “the Muslims” we approach Islamic civilization “spatially”. That is, we explore the three great Islamic empires of the pre-modern era, the Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals, through their cities. How were those cities spatially arranged? What was the center of town? Where were the markets? Who lived where? Researching and imagining their societies, institutions, and cultural and artistic lives, we digitally recreate major cities of these Muslim empires. Given that it is a religious studies course, role of religion, religious thought and religious life of these empires will receive special attention.

There are various ways of studying a culture, civilization or a religious tradition. One can choose the window of history (thus studying its historical origins and evolution), read the various texts its inhabitants has produced, listen to the stories that were deemed important by its inhabitants, listen (or/and speak) to the inhabitants OR approach them “spatially”, i.e., by paying close attention to the spaces that they created. It is the latter that we will do this term. Our explorations seek to imagine, discover and share with one another a bird’s eye view of premodern Muslim spaces, those created within the boundaries of the three biggest empires in human history, the Ottomans, the Safavids and the Mughals. We will seek to understand Islamic societies and its inhabitants “the Muslims” by painting a picture/image of a major “Islamic City” with its religious, cultural, social, political, and economic life as experienced within the imperial boundaries of these three empires. Led by a TLA-team (T=Technology; L=Library; A=Academic) you are invited to explorations of traditional Islamic civilization in which you will ‘choose’, ‘discover’, ‘imagine’ and ‘re-present’ an Islamic city and its political, religious, social, economic and cultural life.