Monday, March 5, 2018

High Flying Adored
The Symbolism of Falconry at Medieval Muslim Courts
March 16, 2018
7:30 pm
CUNY Graduate Center
Room 4406
From the Umayyad period onwards, falconry flourished at Muslim courts. As part of the royal hunt, falconry involved a complex set of symbolisms. The royal hunter displayed his physical prowess and martial skills. He represented human domination within the natural world and thus his own within the social spheres of politics and religion. At medieval Muslim courts, however, falconry as a royal practice entailed more than hunting. It involved acquiring and owning a large number of rare birds and employing specialized staff for their training and care. It also involved patronage for science and literature concerned with falconry.
This presentation will offer a survey of symbolic dimensions of falconry at medieval Muslim courts, focusing on medieval Arabic technical manuals on falconry. These treatises typically contain chapters on the history of falconry composed of anecdotes featuring famous falconers in pre-Islamic and Islamic history. These episodes offer insights into the complex nature of the symbolism surrounding falconry such as the connections between rulership and hunting across Eurasia as well as into the human fascination with birds of prey and the possibility of training them to kill.
Anna Akasoy is Professor of Islamic intellectual history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center. She teaches classes on Islamic intellectual history and the history, literature and culture of the Islamic world. Her research interests include the intellectual history of the medieval Islamic world, in particular the relationship between mysticism and philosophy, as well as contacts between the Islamic world and other cultures. Her current research projects include a study of the religious dimension of Alexander the Great in the Islamic tradition within the larger context of the classical heritage of the Middle East and Asia. Her publications include Philosophie und Mystik in der späten Almohadenzeit. Die Sizilianischen Fragen des Ibn Sabʿīn(Leiden: Brill, 2006); Rashīd al-Dīn, Agent and Mediator of Cultural Exchanges in Ilkhanid Iran, Edited with Charles Burnett and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim (London: The Warburg Institute, 2013);Renaissance Averroism and its Aftermath: Arabic Philosophy in Early Modern Europe, Edited with Guido Giglioni (Dordrecht: Springer, 2013); Islam and Tibet. Interactions along the Musk Routes, Edited with Charles Burnett and Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), and many essays.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Word, World and Lexicon:
The Case of the Arabic Names of the Lion
Friday, February 23
7:30 pm
CUNY Graduate Center
Room 4406
The project of lexicography is to catalogue the semantic resources of language. In so doing, it serves a collateral function of classifying the contents of the world—especially where thematic organization (and not alphabetic order) is its structuring principle, as is the case with much of Arabic lexicography in its seminal Early Abbasid period (9th-10th centuries CE). The severally-repeated feat of cataloguing all the Arabic epithets and names for lion is the occasion for my talk about applications of pre-modern lexicography in cultural studies, with special focus on the disciplinary margins where natural history and language science overlap, and the semiotics of the lion in patterns of interspecies interaction.

David Larsen is a scholar and translator of Classical Arabic texts. Last year, his translation of the Names of the Lion by Ibn Khālawayh (d. 980 CE) was released in a new edition by Wave Books. His Ph.D. in Comparative Literature is from U.C. Berkeley, and he is currently a Clinical Professor of Liberal Studies at NYU. His translation blog may be consulted at

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Lament for Lost Solitude?
Monastic Devotion Cultivated in the Secular Landscape
Lauren Mancia, Brooklyn College CUNY
November 10 2017
CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave (btw 34th and 35th Streets) 
in the English Studies Conference Room (4406)
John of Fécamp, the eleventh-century abbot of the Norman monastery of Fécamp, has been called "the greatest spiritual writer in the epoch before Saint Bernard"; his devotional work the Confessio Theologica was a text prescribing the most emotionally extreme devotional practices known to his particular monastic world. And yet, Abbot John also acknowledged that there were limited benefits to being wholly absorbed in the "cloister of the soul"; in fact, to John, the world outside of the monastery was surprisingly useful to a monk's religious cultivation. In this talk, I will show how John's political and economic actions in the world beyond the cloister were at their core pastoral, ultimately serving to bolster contemplative and devotional feeling in both others and himself. Historians analyzing important abbots have often interpreted abbatial engagement with the world in a black-and-white way, either as a task despised by brilliant spiritual abbots "longing for the lost solitude" of the monastery, or a task revealing of the cunning minds of abbots who were actually political lords in their hearts. In this talk, I will paint a more nuanced picture, showing how John's worldly, pastoral actions, though seemingly far from prayerful, were actually directed towards his contemplative prescriptions and his desire to be 'awake' to proper devotional emotion.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Medieval Fictionality
Oct 20 2017
7:30 pm
CUNY Graduate Center
365 5th Ave (btw 34th and 35th Streets) 
in the English Studies Conference Room (4406)

Inquiry into “medieval fictionality” foregrounds the limits of two dominant approaches to studying fictionality today – that of a “universalist” camp, which understands fiction to be almost co-extensive with the human, and, contrarily, that of a “modernist” camp, which yokes fiction’s emergence to the rise of the novel. This talk argues that fiction cannot be bound to the semantics of the realist novel, even as I insist on the historical precision that such periodizing arguments often marshal. I show that the historiography of fiction remains caught in the grand récit of the secularization thesis, and against this I argue for the needfulness, and difficulty, of a comparative study of fiction. One way that medievalists might contribute to such study is through the corpus of “medieval literary theory” – but, though I attend to this body of thought, my own approach is different. Medieval practices of fiction-writing, especially in the vernacular, often developed at a remove from their theorization. Building on the claims of Nicolette Zeeman’s 2007 essay “Imaginative Theory,” I explore how medieval texts themselves disposed their metaphysical, epistemic, institutional, and formal resources to cut distinctions between different modes of reference, to fashion distinctive and immanent fictionalities.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Morgan Library Tour
Magnificent Gems
Friday, October 6
Morgan Library
225 Madison Ave, Manhattan

This year’s Morgan Library visit will be on Friday, October 6th, at 6pm, for the Magnificent Gems: Medieval Treasure Bindings show. A docent will be leading the tour. The Morgan’s website explains:

Among the exhibition highlights will be the ninth-century Lindau Gospels, one of the two finest Carolingian jeweled bindings in the world, and the thirteenth-century Berthold Sacramentary, the most luxurious German manuscript of its time.

While the Morgan is waiving its tour fee for us, they are charging us $11 a person this time. The Medieval Club can cover costs for graduate students, but otherwise, we are asking you please to reimburse the club when you arrive for the tour. A check made out to the New York Medieval Club would be best.

Write to me to the President of the NY Medieval Club, Karl Steel, at, if you are planning to attend, ideally by September 12th, as the Morgan is asking the Medieval Club to place a deposit on the tour by then.