The focus of my research and writing is on the material culture of Islamic and Islamicate societies from the eastern Mediterranean to South Asia. I have a long-term interest in the reception of concepts, materials and practices originating in the central Islamic lands in regions that lay beyond, whether the Caucasus, the Horn of Africa, or the Indian Ocean. Over the years, my work has been supported by fellowships from the University of Oxford, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Institution, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Getty Research Institute, the Carnegie Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. In 2017, I founded Silsila: Center for Material Histories at New York University: https://as.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/as/research-centers/silsila.html
Much of my research is concerned with moments of cultural formation, something explored in The Great Mosque of Damascus: Studies on the Makings of an Umayyad Visual Culture (Brill, 2000). I am especially interested in the potential of material culture to nuance our histories of transcultural or transregional connectivity in ways that challenge or confound their instrumentalization in essentialist politics of the present. These issues were addressed in a monograph, Objects of Translation: Material Culture and Medieval “Hindu-Muslim” Encounter (Princeton, 2009), awarded the 2011 Ananda K. Coomaraswamy Prize of the Association for Asian Studies for the best English-language book on South Asia.
Although my primary focus is on pre-modern art and material culture, recently I have been exploring questions of replication, technology and modernity related to the devotional and/or therapeutic deployment of material images and words. In 2019 I delivered five lectures on the theme as the holder of the Chaire du Louvre at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. The lectures explored the relationship between efficacy, mass production and seriality, and were accompanied by a book Technologies de dévotion dans les arts de l’islam: pèlerins, reliques, copies (Hazan/Musée du Louvre). I am currently preparing an English version. The Chaire du Louvre lectures are available online: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXLB812R3GOneLHQn_NitR3BmWn4rGjzk
My current focus is the completion of a long-term book project, Islam and Image: Contested Histories. The book surveys the history of the idea of Islam as fostering aniconism or iconoclasm and its role in Christian and secular representation of Islam. Against this history, it marshals a wide variety of texts, artifacts and images from the Islamic lands that challenge idées reçues about the historical relationships between Islam and image, whether at the level of proscription, prescription, or practice. In the spring of 2019, I presented a draft of the book as Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford. The title of the series was Islam and Image: Beyond Aniconism and Iconoclasm. This is one of the publication projects that I am to bring to completion under the aegis of Global Horizons.