Religious Art, Practice, and Perception in Islam
Harvard University Press 2012
New Books in Islamic StudiesNew Books in Middle Eastern StudiesNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books in South Asian StudiesNew Books Network April 23, 2015 SherAli Tareen
In his remarkable new book Aisha’s Cushion: Religious Art, Practice, and Perception in Islam (Harvard University Press, 2012), Jamal Elias, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, presents a magisterial study of Muslim attitudes towards visual culture, images, and perception. Through meticulous historical and textual analysis, Elias successfully unravels the stereotype that there is no place for visual images in Islam, or that calligraphy represents the only normative form of art in Islam. He shows that throughout history Muslims have approached the question of images and art in a much more nuanced and complicated fashion, while negotiating important philosophical, theological, and perceptual considerations. He argues that “Muslim thinkers have developed systematic and advanced theories of representation and signification, and that many of these theories have been internalized by Islamic society at large and continue to inform cultural attitudes toward the visual arts.” What is most unusual about this book is the almost overwhelming range and varieties of sources that Elias marshals to construct his argument. The reader of this book travels through a glittering arcade of intellectual histories populated by texts on philosophy, Sufism, alchemy, dreams, optics, and architecture and monuments. This painstakingly researched and lyrically written book is sure to delight the intellectual palate of specialists and non-specialists alike.