Workshop | Constructions of Devotion across Islamic Lands

Workshop folder

Studies on devotion and religious life in the Islamic world have traditionally been based on the oposition between scholars ('ulama') and Sufis, or mystics, especially at historical moments when these latter were able to monopolize the religious popular sphere, wresting it from the hands of scholars whose primary concerns were the establishment of orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Indeed, Islamic juridical texts clearly show how the ulama' tried to forbid certain sufi practices because they were divergent from the norms they themselves sanctioned as "orthodox devotion." The study of this opposition has been very fruitful for international discussions on law and Sufism and on ascetism and its control by rulers in Islamic societies. The operation of all of these various entities, however, in the history of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada (1232-1492), in the Iberian Peninsula, has yet to awaken the serious interest of scholarship: Granada is always marginal to these discussions, whether they involve the Maghreb or the larger Islamic world. Recent studies have shown that, during the 12th and 13th centuries, the Almohads promoted a true revolution in terms of religious life in Western Islam, but the influence that this revolution might have had on later periods is still unknown. It seems that there was a new upturn of sufism in Nasrid Granada and a strong renewal of the Maliki school of law. Placing these phenomena in a wider, Mediterranean context, may help scholars to understand whether they were produced as a reaction against the Almohad movement or, on the contrary, as the result of an organic and gradual evolution based on their doctrines.

We are interested not only in the essential facts of religious behaviour, but also, and more specifically, in how political and dynastic powers, scholars and Sufis endeavoured to contruct an ideal of religiosity and devotion through images, both poetic and otherwise. Therefore, in addition to legal and doctrinal treatises, works on asceticism and prayer manuals, we will study the representation of religion in artistic works and architecture. In fact, we believe that both types of evidence will help in achieving a better understanding of the religious phenomenon in Medieval Islam. Even if artistic representations in religious contexts in Islam do not habitually produce icons and images of living beings, we contend that concepts such as purity, closeness to God, heaven, destiny, love, etc., are produced and represented both in texts and artifacts.


Photograph of Assoc. Prof. Ana María  Echevarría Arsuaga

Assoc. Prof. Ana María Echevarría Arsuaga