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In Islam and the Devotional Object: Seeing Religion in Egypt and Syria (Cambridge University Press, 2020), Richard J. A. McGregor, Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University, offers a history of Islamic practice through the aesthetic reception of medieval religious objects. Elaborate parades in Cairo and Damascus included decorated objects of great value, destined for Mecca and Medina. Among these were the precious dress sewn yearly for the Ka'ba, and large colorful sedans mounted on camels, which mysteriously completed the Hajj without carrying a single passenger. Along with the brisk trade in Islamic relics, these objects and the variety of contested meanings attached to them, constituted material practices of religion that persisted into the colonial era, but were suppressed in the twentieth century. McGregor here recovers the biographies of religious objects, including relics, banners, public texts, and coverings for the Ka'ba. Reconstructing the premodern visual culture of Islamic Egypt and Syria, he follows the shifting meanings attached to objects of devotion, as well as the contingent nature of religious practice and experience. In our conversation we discuss aesthetic theory, material culture, processional objects, museum exhibition, relic typologies, devotional objects and religious landscapes, public celebrations, visual text and its illegibility, and the function of banners.
Kristian Petersen is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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