Aesthetic and Symbolic Dimensions of Arabic Writing (ASDAW) Symposium

As the disciplines of Islamic history and Arabic palaeography make steady progress, many questions concerning the aesthetic and symbolic dimensions of Arabic writing remain unanswered. This symposium will bring together fourteen scholars working on Arabic calligraphy, epigraphy, palaeography, numismatics, and diplomatics in different regions of Afro-Eurasia, from the seventh to the sixteenth centuries. The aim is to showcase brand new research on a wide range of artifacts (Qurʾanic manuscripts, chancery documents, monumental epigraphy, inscribed objects, coins…), grounded in material evidence but also engaged with textual sources (historiography, biographical dictionaries, philosophical treatises, fatwas and legal compendia, chancery manuals, adab…). Each contribution will shed light on previously unnoticed paradigms and practices, proposing new frameworks and approaches to Arabic writing that could be applied on a macro level, and unveiling the processes by which meaning was conveyed not just textually, but also visually. The symposium will lay the foundations for a methodological shift in the way we understand calligraphic and epigraphic styles, as it will mainly focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ such styles originated, developed, transformed, and became extinct, exposing or disproving their links with doctrinal notions, dynastic claims, aesthetic discourses, cultural identities, or the self-representation of distinct professional groups.

These are some of the questions that will be tackled: Why were specific scripts and layouts employed in some Arabic manuscripts, documents, and inscriptions on various media, instead of others? How did such scripts and layouts originate and develop, and how can the available literary sources help us understand these processes? Through what channels did calligraphic and epigraphic styles travel and spread? What role did different social groups (Quranic calligraphers, book copyists, chancery scribes, stone carvers, die engravers…) play in these processes, and to what extent did they affect each other’s work? What influence did certain patrons, intellectual elites, and religious scholars have on the adoption and canonisation of specific calligraphic and epigraphic styles? What meanings were conveyed by calligraphic diagrams, calligrams, or by epigraphy that followed distinctive configurations or colour schemes? How did contemporary viewers and users perceive calligraphy and epigraphy beyond their textual content? How did they engage with their visual properties and material qualities?