Civilization? What’s Up with That? – #EOTalks Panel

Civilization? What’s Up with That? – #EOTalks Panel

This event is co-sponsored by the University of Toronto’s Institute of Islamic Studies


The ongoing “freedom convoys” and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have led to a substantial flow of public Orientalism, as well as to the normalized and conspicuous use of the words “civilization” and “civilized” (with or without “the West” or “Western”).  Drawing from this highly historicized present moment, this panel will gather scholars working at the intersection of Ancient, Early Medieval and Islamic History. Together, we will reflect on questions such as: What are the ancient roots of the notion of “civilization”? How does the reality of the period spanning from the so-called ‘Classical’ past to the early Islamic period disrupt this narrative? What can teachers of ancient to medieval and Islamic History contribute to shifting popular Eurocentric, Orientalist, and Islamophobic narratives? And how can scholars working at the intersection of Antiquity and Early Islam best contribute to public conversations about, and the prevention of, the rise of White supremacy, fascism, and ethno-nationalism?

Panelists and chair (in alphabetical order)

Adam Benkato

Adam Benkato is an Assistant Professor, and holder of the Bita Daryabari Presidential Chair in Iranian Studies, in the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Berkeley. His research investigates a wide variety of textual and audio sources, ranging from late antique Iran and Central Asia to modern North Africa, through philological, sociolinguistic, and archive studies approaches.

Katherine Blouin (@isisnaucratis)

Katherine Blouin is Associate Professor of ancient History at the University of Toronto/UTSC and a co-founder of Everyday Orientalism. Her work centres on socio-economic and environmental history, with a focus on ancient, and particularly Roman, Egypt, as well as on the ethics and (de)colonial entailments of Antiquity-related fields. She is the author of Le conflit judéo-alexandrin de 38-41 : l’identité juive à l’épreuve (Paris, 2005) and Triangular Landscapes: Environment, Society and the State in the Nile Delta under Roman Rule (Oxford, 2014), as well as the editor of the volume The Nile Delta: Histories from Antiquity to the Modern Period (Cambridge, forthcoming) and co-editor (with Ben Akrigg, forthcoming) of the Routledge Handbook of Classics and Potscolonial Theory (London). Her upcoming monograph is entitled Inventing Alexandria (New Haven). You can also read her here and here.

Suzanne Conklin Akbari (chair, @BackCampusGreen)

Suzanne Conklin Akbari is professor of medieval studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Her books are on optics and allegory (Seeing Through the Veil) and European views of Islam and the Orient (Idols in the East), and she’s also edited volumes on travel literature, Mediterranean Studies, and somatic histories, plus the Open Access collections How We Write and How We Read. Her most recent book is The Oxford Handbook of Chaucer (2020), co-edited with James Simpson. Akbari is involved with two global medieval studies projects, “The Book and the Silk Roads” and “Practices of Commentary,” and co-curated the recent exhibition at the Aga Khan Museum, “Hidden Stories: Books Along the Silk Roads.” She co-hosts a literature podcast called “The Spouter-Inn; or, A Conversation with Great Books.”

Suleyman Dost

Suleyman Dost is Assistant Professor of Late Antiquity and Early Islam. He works primarily on inscriptions and other documentary sources from late antique Arabia and Ethiopia. His research also covers the historical context in which the Qur’an emerged as well as the history of its textual transmission. Before joining the University of Toronto, Dr. Dost was an Assistant Professor at Brandeis University and held a year-long fellowship at ANAMED Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2017.

Heba Mostafa

Heba Mostafa is Assistant Professor of Islamic art and architecture at the Department of History of Art at the University of Toronto. She received her doctorate from Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture in 2012 and holds degrees in architecture and the history of Islamic architecture from Cairo University and the American University in Cairo. Her research explores the formation of Islamic architecture through the lens of early Islamic sectarianism and governance, addressing the mediation of political conflict and confessional division through architecture at the intersection of politics and the sacred. She focuses on Islam’s interface with late antiquity, Christianity and Judaism through commemorative architecture, pilgrimage and ritual practice, with a particular focus on Jerusalem and Cairo. 

Further readings (incl. references mentioned during the panel)

van Bladel, Kevin 2020. “A Brief History of Islamic Civilization from Its Genesis in the Late Nineteenth Century to Its Institutional Entrenchment”, Al-ʿUṣūr al-Wusṭā: The Journal of Middle East Medievalists 28.1.

Blouin, Katherine 2017. “History Is not a Plant: Some Thoughts on High School and Undergraduate (Ancient) History Curricula“, Everyday Orientalism.

Blouin, Katherine 2018. “Civilization: What’s Up with That?“, Everyday Orientalism.

Blouin, Katherine, Curtis Dozier and Pharos Team 2022. “How Classics Made its Way into the ‘Freedom Convoy’“, Pharos.

Futo Kennedy, Rebecca 2019. “On the History of Western Civilization“, 2-part post, Classics at the Intersections.

Futo Kennedy, rebecca 2022. “Reflections on ‘the West’“, Classics at the Intersections.

Lawrence, Bruce 2022. Islamicate Cosmopolitan Spirit. London; New York: Wiley Blackwell.

Saleh, Walid 2019. “Meccan Gods, Jesus’ Divinity: An Analysis of Q 43 Surat al-Zukhruf.” In The Qur’an’s Reformation of Judaism and Christianity: Return to the Origins, edited by Holger Zellentin. Abingdon: Routledge.

Sears, Matthew 2021. “Problems with ‘Classics’ and ‘Western Civilization’“, Alberta Curriculum Analysis.

White, Hayden 2014 (1973). Metahistory. The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Cover picture: Detail, Textile from 5th-6th c. CE Egypt, Staatliche Sammlung für Ägyptische Kunst, picture taken by Katherine Blouin

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