Universiteit Leiden

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Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society

Re-Presented Pasts: Uses and Re-Uses of the Past in Pre-Modern Islam

A platform to research memory and culture in the Muslim world. This programme explores the ways modern memory studies methodologies can be applied to pre-modern Muslim societies to reveal the uses of the past and senses of tradition in diverse contexts of Muslim thought.

All cultures remember their past, but the ways in which cultures perform and sustain that recollection are distinctive and reflect how different cultural producers negotiate their present self-conceptions. The manifold strategies can include maintaining or inventing traditions, grappling with senses of dislocation and memory loss, privileging certain pasts over others, and creatively selecting new memories and legacies.

Contemporary theory has extensively advanced memory studies, emphasis has been placed on the mnemonic strategies and cultural practices of modern European nation states, and the study of memory in Muslim cultures, and in pre-modern Islam particularly, is underdeveloped. In order to achieve more nuanced understanding of premodern Muslim cultures and societies and the varied ways in which they developed their social norms and institutions, we now need to examine how they mobilised their senses of the past, and the extent to which modern theories honed on European examples can be applied to illuminate pre-modern Muslim-world cultural production.

This program will convene a workshop: Re-presented Pasts: Uses and Re-Uses of the Past in Pre-Modern Islam. The workshop panels will include focus on material culture, historiography and literature, and paper topics will represent a wide geographical and chronological scope – from Iberia to Central Asia, from early Islam to the Ottoman Era. The workshop will compare and contrast the ways Muslims have mobilised memories of the past in different times and locales, and question why and how effectively these memories were marshalled in the construction of identities and senses of communal boundaries.

The mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo | Mamluk architects meet Abbasid memories | Photo: Peter Webb
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