Center for Islamic Theology

Beauty and Islamic Theology

Project Managers: Dr. Bilal Badat (University of Tübingen) and Dr. Farid Suleiman (University of Erlangen)
Project Assistant: Ertul Ortabas

The question of what makes something ‘beautiful’ has been a long-standing area of artistic, philosophical, and theological inquiry. Throughout the passage of history, deep intimations on form, colour, and harmony have motivated artists to pursue new and unexplored dimensions of aesthetic purity, impelled philosophers towards profound imaginations on the nature of beauty and the sublime, and inspired theologians to find proofs of the Divine in the natural and physical world. In almost all such discussions, engagement with beauty has been formulated as a conduit not only to a heightened sensory experience, but also emotional, imaginative, and spiritual enlightenment.

Regrettably, however, the contemporary history of Islamic theology and the history of Islamic art has not yet brought a study of the theology of beauty into its purview, despite its potential to illuminate understandings of both the human experience and material culture. This project aims to address this vacuum by exploring the nature, importance, and theological significance of beauty from an interdisciplinary perspective, bringing together scholars from a diversity of intellectual backgrounds in order to open new conceptual horizons in the key areas of theology, art history, and philosophy. Specifically, this project aims to explore the rich and neglected relations between theology and the production of ‘things beautiful’ in Islamic civilization, seeking to historicise theology as an active shaper of Islamic culture.

Throughout the duration of the project the Center for Islamic Theology, University of Tübingen is to host two workshops in partnership with the Department of Islamic-Religious Studies, Erlangen, exploring Islamic manuscript production with theologians, art historians, and artistic practitioners in attendance as participants, the primary objective being to inculcate within staff members and students a deeper understanding of the history and practice of Islamic art through direct engagement with an artistic tradition as taught by a living master craftsman. In doing so, these workshops not only aim to cultivate a deeper knowledge of materiality and craft, but also encourage debate concerning the significance of art and beauty in theological discourse, and the role of praxis and art-making as a conduit to new perspectives on the nature of aesthetics and theology.

The project culminates with an academic workshop at the end of the project which synthesises the insights gained through the practical workshops with a theoretical investigation of beauty and Islamic theology. Prominent scholars in the field of Islamic theology, Islamic art and architecture, philosophy, history, and anthropology, as well as art practitioners and architects are invited to speak on a diverse range of topics undergirded by the key themes that define this project.