Reconceptualizing Islamic History through Cultural Memories of the Caliphate

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 2:10 PM
Metropolitan Ballroom West (Small) (Sheraton New York)
Mona Hassan, Duke University
The inscription of historical events in multifarious ways has been central in preserving Muslim communal memories and understandings of the past. This analysis both includes and moves beyond textual sources through recognizing the intertwined strands of history that preserve and convey a living Muslim memory. Probing Muslim memories, past and present, of the Islamic caliphate, in particular, opens up new vistas for us to reconsider Islamic historiography. These cultural memories of the caliphate dispersed across Afro-Eurasia weave together narrative, embodied, discursive, and artistic aspects -- the striking combination of which elucidate the lost institution’s immense symbolic weight. The caliphate, as a vehicle or lieu of Muslim collective memory, combined the profane (or the mundane narrative history of the community) with the prophetic (or the religious injunctions derived from the community’s discourses and embodied practices). Poets, artists, and musicians also preserved the pith of profound emotions encircling the Islamic caliphate in its traumatic absences for generations to come. The worldly, or secular, and the sacred, or metaphysical, conjoined in particularly powerful ways to imbue the caliphate with utterly deep cultural resonance that traversed vast lands and even centuries. Yet how can one map an Islamic cultural discourse when faced with the reality of political fragmentation, religious diversity, and dynastic competition? And how relevant are the range of extant primary sources in providing us with access to the premodern individual in relation to broader currents? These questions spark further reflections on historical methodology and how to integrate macro- and micro-level scales of analysis that consider the role of human agency, culture, and intellectual production in global Islamic history.