A book edited by Professor Modjtaba Sadria, Multiple Modernities in Muslim Societies, was published by IB Tauris in May 2009. The book, which also includes a chapter by Senior Instructor Farid Panjwani, is the result of a workshop held in 2008 by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, with the aim of investigating the ‘tangible elements of modernity’.
The book includes writing by prominent scholars and thinkers from a range of disciplines and academic backgrounds, including Armando Salvatore, Masoud Kamali, Charles Jencks and Stefan Weber, as well as AKU-ISMC faculty member Farid Panjwani. Details of the discussion sessions, which form the core of dialogue and exchange emanating from the workshop, are also included in the book.
The book poses the following questions: Does modernity form a part of the experience of Muslim societies? If so, what are the identifiable elements of this modernity?
Contributors pose the question of what it means to be modern - exploring notions of myriad 'multiple modernities' that operate beyond the parameters of singular Western definitions of modern civilisation.
This volume represents a major new contribution to the debate about modernity, and offers new perspectives and ways of considering experiences of modernity in non-Western societies. The volume introduces questions about which aspects of civilisation might be identified as tangible elements of modernity, considering both the built environment (cities, architecture, material cultural heritage) and the lived environment (culture, politics, economics).
While Muslim societies are chosen as the primary focus, the subject of the discussion is relevant to other cultural contexts and contributes to the wider debate about modernity. Rather than pose final solutions to the ‘problem’ of modernity within Muslim societies, the contributors seek to create a space for the opening, questioning and recasting of the debate.
Contributions from Farid Panjwani (AKU-ISMC) and Stefan Weber (Pergamon Museum, Berlin) both place an emphasis on modernity in relation to local contexts.
Farid Panjwani’s contribution to the volume, “A Destructive Vacuum: The Marginalisation of Local Knowledge and Reassertion of Local Identities” looks at the impact of increased privatisation and globalisation of education, and the socially destructive gap that emerges between education and local contexts.
Stefan Weber’s contribution, “Entangled Modernity: Multiple Architectural Expressions of Global Phenomena: the Late Ottoman Example” looks at the expressions of modernity in the architectural heritage of the Late Ottoman Empire, using the notion of “entangled modernity”. Focusing on new forms of housing and the suq in Damascus in particular, he argues that local contexts should be the starting point for any understanding of modernity and social change.
Professor Sadria contributed two chapters, focusing on the framework through which modernity has been approached in Muslim contexts. “Modernities: Re-posing the Issues” examines two approaches to the study of issues of modernity in Muslim societies: problem-solving versus problem-posing. He argues problem-posing provides a fruitful alternative capable of generating new forms of knowledge.
The second chapter looks at criticism as an important element of modernity. In “From Critique in Modernity to Critique of Modernity” he proposes a model for understanding different forms of criticism, and examines how these forms both reflect and contest underlying premises of modernity.
The workshop was the first of a series of Knowledge Construction workshops organised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. These workshops aim to facilitate academic discussion on the most significant issues and debates relating to architecture in Muslim societies. The most recent workshop, Homogeneity of Representations, was held in Vancouver in February 2009.
Aga Khan Award for Architecture
Multiple Modernities in Muslim Societies (I.B. Tauris)
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Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations