4.614 Religious Architecture and Islamic Cultures

Course Description    

This course introduces the history of Islamic cultures through their most vibrant material signs: their religious architecture that spans fourteen centuries and three continents, Asia, Africa, and Europe. It reviews a number of representative architectural examples (mosques, madrasas, mausolea, etc.) from various periods and places and discusses their architectural, urban, and stylistic characteristics in conjunction with their historical, political, and intellectual environments. The course also analyzes the development of the sacred, commemorative, pious, and educational architecture in the Islamic world in light of a changing Islam from a reform movement in 7th-century Arabia to a global power straddling three continents in the medieval period to a world religion professed by one-sixth of humanity in the present. Films and discussions are used to elucidate the artistic/cultural varieties and historical developments of this architectural vision within both the Islamic and the larger, universal, and cross-cultural contexts.

Throughout the course, a number of critical issues will be considered: How do we define and/or qualify architecture? What is the relationship between architecture and culture? How do we study an architectural tradition that covers several regions and encompasses a variety of cultures and national and ethnic identities? And, what, if anything, is Islamic about this architecture, and how do we understand and describe it vis-à-vis the global history of architecture?

This course is offered in the fall semester. It is taught by Prof. Nasser Rabbat and meets twice a week. It is a 12 unit course, and fulfills the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Distribution Requirement (HASS-D) in category III (Visual and Performing Arts). The course has an open book final exam and no prerequisites.