2013 Conference: Image as Animation: Mysticism, Magic, and Poetry in Byzantine Christian & Islamic Religious Experience

MAY 10, 2013 - 9:30AM TO 5:30PM


In the Bible, when God created Adam and breathed life into him, he made him into an “eikon tou Theou” translated as “an image of God” (Gen. 2:7). A hadith reported in Bukhari and Ibn Hanbal states similarly that Adam was created in God’s image. The Qur’an tells of Jesus shaping a bird from clay and investing it with the Spirit with God’s permission to make it come alive (5:110). In these examples the concept of “image” does not conform to our standard definition of it as a pictorial form, but to an enactment of the descent of the Spirit in matter. The resulting entity participates in the divine through the presence of the Spirit in it. This process of embodiment of pneuma/ruh has its roots in gnosticism and ancient magic, and is manifested among other occurrences in the liturgy of Hagia Sophia in sixth-century Constantinople, Sufi thought, and Arabic and other Islamic poetic traditions.


By simultaneously exploring Greek Christian and Arabic, Persian, and Turkish Islamic sources, this one-day workshop will focus on the metaphysical dimension of “image;” the connections between “image-making” and magic; as well as “image” understood as a creation of the mouth, breath, and orality and manifested in the actions of the body such as prayer, the singing of psalms, or the recitation of the Qur’an and poetry. Similarly, participants will reflect on the role of imagination as defined by Sufi texts in structuring the religious experience of “dwelling in the divine;” and seek parallels to these cultural phenomena in the Greek literature of ekphrasis and Anacreontic poetry, and in the multisensory aesthetics of the Constantinopolitan liturgy.




9:30 am - 10:50 am: Session 1

Shahzad Bashir

"The Past as Garden and Place: Metaphor and Phenomenality in Persianate Narratives”

Stanford University

Jamal Elias

“Mevlevis Imagining and Imagined: Rumi and His Order in Pre-Modern Anatolia”

University of Pennsylvania

11:00 am - 12:20 pm: Session II

Persis Berlekamp

“The Roar of Battle: Activating Military Talismans in Medieval Anatolia”

University of Chicago

Panagiotis Agapitos

“The Word as Animated Image: Inscribed texts in the frescoes of the church of the Virgin: Mary at Laghouderá, Cyprus (AD 1192)”

University of Cyprus

2:00 pm - 3:20 pm: Session III

Alexander Key

"The Lexicon and the Image"

Stanford University

Beatrice Gruendler

“Text as Image in the First Arabic Books”

Yale University

3:40 pm - 5:00 pm: Session IV

Michael Sells

“The Staff, the Power, and The Voice: Trans-locution in Qur’anic Musa Passages and a treatise by Ibn al-`Arabi”

University of Chicago

Bissera Pentcheva

“Icons of Sound: Spirit, Chiasmus, and Chant in Hagia Sophia”

Stanford University

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