In a departure from the prevailing narrative that frames modern conflicts in the Middle East solely through sectarian lines, the research of Stephennie Mulder, associate professor of Islamic art and architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, examines the architecture of medieval Syria to reveal a more complex interaction between Sunni and Shi’i communities.
Delivering the Rice School of Humanities’ fifth annual Kazimi Lecture in Shi’i Studies, Mulder draws inspiration from her 2014 book, “The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’is and the Architecture of Coexistence,” which has been recognized with the Hamilton Book Award Grand Prize, the Syrian Studies Association Award and Iran’s World Prize for Book of the Year. She challenges the commonly held belief that sectarianism is an intrinsic aspect of Islamic history and theology, arguing for a more nuanced understanding marked by pragmatic accommodation and cooperation. Her talk focuses on the shrines of the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad in Syria, showcasing a pluralistic past characterized more by coexistence than conflict.
Mulder, who has conducted archaeological and historical art fieldwork throughout Syria, Egypt, Turkey and elsewhere in the region, specializes in Islamic art, architectural history and archaeology. In addition to working on the conservation of antiquities and cultural heritage sites endangered by war and illegal trafficking, Mulder is a consultant for the Safeguarding the Heritage of Syria and Iraq Project, the Smithsonian Institute and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, while also serving on the board of directors for the American Society of Overseas Research’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives.
The lecture, titled “The Architecture of Coexistence: Insights from Medieval Syrian Shrines on Modern Sectarianism,” is scheduled for Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. The event will be conducted in a dual format, with attendees having the option to join in person at Hudspeth Auditorium in Rice’s Anderson-Clarke Center or virtually through Zoom. To secure a spot and receive further details, interested participants are encouraged to register for the event at humanities.rice.edu/kazimi-lecture.
Generously sponsored by the children of Syed Safdar and Samina Kazimi, the Kazimi Lecture in Shi’i Studies underscores the importance of fostering dialogue and understanding within the academic exploration of Islamic history.