The Architecture of Coexistence: What Medieval Syrian Shrines Can Tell us About Modern Sectarianism

Stephennie Mulder
Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture, University of Texas at Austin
Anderson-Clarke Center, Hudspeth Auditorium
Thursday, February 15, 2024 | 6:30 p.m.

All members of the Rice community and public are welcome.

How can the study of the objects and architecture of the past illuminate the present? Modern conflicts in the Middle East have played out along sectarian lines. As a result, many people have come to believe that sectarianism is a fundamental aspect of Islamic history and theology. Mulder’s book, The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’s and the Architecture of Coexistence, upon which this lecture is based, argues that the architecture of medieval Syria reveals a more complex interaction between the two main interpretive communities in Islam.

Through the study of art and architecture, we can come to understand a more nuanced Islamic past, one marked by pragmatic accommodation and cooperation. Indeed, Islamic history can be seen as characterized more by coexistence than conflict: as most people, most of the time, found a way to get along. In this talk, Mulder will demonstrate this by exploring the shrines of the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad in Syria. By understanding this pluralistic past marked by coexistence and accommodation, we open up the possibility that it may one day be so again.

The Kazimi Lecture in Shi’i Studies is made possible through a generous gift from the children of Syed Safdar and Samina Kazimi.