[P5928] Towards a History and Interpretations of the "Circle" in the Scientific and Visual Cultures of the Middle East

Created by Adrien Zakar
Friday, 10/16/20 01:30 pm


Circles are a central metaphor in various strands of Middle Eastern thought. As a geometric form, authors and illustrators drew circles in a wide array of textual and manuscript material to communicate different spheres of knowledge from astrology, and geography to theology, mysticism, and theories of governance. A timeless image imbued with the symbolism of infinity and perfection in Judeo-Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and pagan discursive traditions, circles framed ideas from cosmic phenomena, theories of time and space, and economy, to conceptions of governance, and selfhood. Scholars have investigated the meaning and function of circles as powerful symbols, heuristic tools, and instruments of visualization in different contexts such as medieval cosmographical charts, the building of centers of power like Mecca and Baghdad, imperial doctrines of justice, and modern historicities of nationalism. This panel will consider the ways in which circles provide an intellectual and visual infrastructure for ideas and practices of knowledge-making spanning from the scientific to the spiritual. Starting with circles as material objects, we aim to broaden the scope of analysis to address metaphors of circularity as they are used as metaphors for human experience. Our panel gathers contributions from the Ottoman Empire and South Asia to generate innovative methodologies in the study of visual and textual cultures in the Middle East by bringing celestial charts, spiritual handbooks, mystical, and scientific traditions as well as ritual practices together in a conversation. We ask: How did Islamic astronomers grapple with Ptolemy’s epicycles and why did this affect Ottoman and Islamic views of the circular cosmos in the early modern period? In what ways did Sufi diagrams depict a knowledge that combined “science” and Islamic mysticism in the 16h-century? How did such diagrams later spread through print culture and among what audience in the Middle East and South Asia? What does the production of early modern Ottoman atlases tell us about science and empire? How did the proliferation of maps, geographical books, and atlases in the 19th and 20th-century fit within existing strands of knowledge and traditions in circular visualization?


Art/Art Hist; Hist



Side Emre

(Texas A&M University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Adrien Zakar

(Stanford University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Heather Ferguson

(Claremont McKenna College)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant;

Nur Sobers-Khan

(British Library)
Nur Sobers-Khan completed a BA in Oriental Studies (Arabic and Persian) in 2006 and a PhD in Islamic History in 2012 at the Oriental Studies Faculty at the University Cambridge. In 2012-2013, Dr. Sobers-Khan was the Iran Heritage Curator for Persian...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Isin Taylan

(Yale University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Aamer Ibraheem

(Columbia University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair;

Maryam Patton

(Harvard University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;