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U of M conference to explore Islam and the humanities

Leading scholars to present on topics ranging from architecture and arts to science and theater

January 4, 2011

Media note: To arrange interviews with conference presenters, please contact Kelly O'Brien.

Islamic developments in architecture, the arts, sciences and theater will be the topics of a federally-funded conference at the University of Minnesota Feb. 24-26.

“Shared Cultural Spaces,” presented by the university's Religious Studies program, will take a fresh look at humanities and sciences in Islamic civilization and reveal the connections between the Islamic and western worlds.

One purpose of the conference is to highlight the interactions of civilizations throughout history. Professor Nabil Matar, one of the conference organizers, says, “At a time when other parts of the world were in their ‘dark ages,’ in Islamic civilizations there were artists, scientists, writers and architects who created a world of imagination, openness (as they included Christians and Jews as well) and brilliance. The conference will show how Islamic cultural imagination continues to enrich contemporary life.”

In conjunction with the conference, the U of M is presenting the world premiere of "Journey," a stage adaptation of one of the spiritual and scientific masterpieces of the medieval Islamic world, Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy ibn Yaqzan. Translated into English in the 17th century but only now dramatized by director Mohammed B. Ghaffari for its premiere at the conference, this masterful work was the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. Performances take place at Rarig Center on the university’s west bank.

Conference presenters will address topics on architecture, the arts and aesthetics, science and theater. Some of the leading presenters include:

  • Nader Ardalan, an architect with more than four decades of award winning international experience. Since September 2006, Ardalan has been a Fellow of the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, where he is project director of the Persian Gulf Research Project.
  • Wadad Kadi, the Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor Emerita at the University of Chicago, was Professor of Islamic Thought at the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from 1988 until 2009. Kadi has published widely on Islamic political thought, early Arabic prose, the impact of the Quran on Arabic literature and early Islamic theology and sectarianism.          
  • Anouar Majid, director of the Center for Global Humanities and associate provost for global humanities at the University of New England. Majid's writings deal with the place of Islam in the age of globalization and Muslim - Western relations since 1492. He was described by Cornel West in his 2004 book Democracy Matters as among a group of "towering Islamic intellectuals."
  • Hamid Rassoul, a veteran space scientist, professor of physics and space sciences, and senior associate dean for the College of Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology. His current research activities include X-ray and gamma-ray observations of thunderstorms and lightning, solar modulation of galactic and anomalous cosmic rays, instrument development and space sciences education.
  • Ingrid Mattson, professor of Islamic studies, founder of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program and director of the Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut. Her research and writing focuses on Islamic law and ethics, as well as gender and leadership issues in contemporary Muslim communities. From 2006-2010 Mattson served as president of the Islamic Society of North America.
  • George Saliba, professor of Arabic and Islamic Science at Columbia University in New York. He studies the development of scientific ideas from late antiquity to early modern times, with a special focus on the transmission of astronomical and mathematical ideas from the Islamic world to Renaissance Europe. Saliba received the History of Astronomy Prize from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science in 1996 and the History of Science Prize given by the Third World Academy of Science in 1993.

Other speakers at the conference are drawn from the University of Minnesota and other local colleges.

“Shared Cultural Spaces” is supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and conference sessions are free and open to the public. They will take place at locations on the University of Minnesota’s west bank campus, including the Carlson School of Management, Wilson Library and Rarig Center. Complete conference details, including bios of the 17 speakers and session schedule, are at

Islam map 300
The Catalan Atlas (above) depicts a 14th century view of both the European and Islamic worlds.

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