An Old New World: Modernity, Science, and New Islamic Cosmology

Farouk Mustafa Memorial Friday Lecture Series: "An Old New World: Modernity, Science, and New Islamic Cosmology"

Friday, May 29, 4:30pm CDT

Orit Bashkin
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago

In this lecture, Dr. Bashkin will present a close reading of a long poem written by Iraqi intellectual Jamil Sidqi al-Zahawi (1863-1936), "Revolution in Hell" ("Thawra fi’l jahim," 1931). Zahawi was a fervent supporter of positivism, Darwinism and social Darwinism, and celebrated the role of science in the modern world in his works of poetry and prose, which circulated in Arabic and Ottoman journals in several regional languages. In "Revolution in Hell," Zahawi depicts the speaker’s journey to underworld, where he meets social scientists, scientists, philosophers, and poets. Together, they devise modern machinery that allows them to conquer the Heavens. In her analysis of the poem, Dr. Bashkin will explore how Zahawi subverts religious imagery related to Islamic cosmology in order to create a new understanding of a modern and new world. She will further argue that the translation of both scientific and literary works into Middle Eastern languages enabled this conceptual and spatial shift with respect to Islamic cosmology.

Please register to join this lecture here

Orit Bashkin is Professor of Modern Middle East History at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel (Stanford, 2017); New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq (Stanford, 2012); and The Other Iraq: Pluralism and Culture in Hashemite Iraq (Stanford, 2008). Her other publications deal with the Arab cultural revival movement (the nahda) in the late 19th century, and the connections between modern Arab history and Arabic literature.

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