SOAS University of London

History of Art and Archaeology

Islamic Art Theories and Aesthetics

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2022/2023
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2, Year 3 or Year 4
Taught in:
Term 2

This course surveys a number of different theories of Islamic art that have been propounded in twentieth- and twenty-first-century studies of Islamic art and, especially, architecture, with particular attention paid to theories relating to objecthood and the role of the viewing subject; and it investigates what might be meant by the term, Islamic aesthetics. Using primary source Islamic texts wherever possible, this investigation expands the treatment of aesthetics from its popular but limited remit of sensory data perceived by the eye into a treatment of sensory data perceived by the body in its entirety. As a result of this expansion, a desideratum for the development of new methods for engaging with Islamic art becomes apparent, and perhaps even new theories.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  • Assess and communicate the diverse sources pertaining to theories of Islamic art and the question of Islamic aesthetics.
  • Analyse Islamic art in terms of the theories and methods taught, using the appropriate vocabulary.
  • Evaluate scholarly positions critically, and to articulate and justify their own position within that debate.
  • Demonstrate critical awareness of visual evidence as a source for the study of Islam; specifically, the Islamic sensorium.
  • Assess critically the materials and themes explored in the course.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Method of assessment

  • One 750 word essay - 20%
  • One 1,500 word essay - 40%
  • One two hour exam - 30%
  • Lecture/seminar participation and attendance - 10%
  • One 750 word essay - 20%
  • One 1,500 word essay and annotated bibliography - 40%
  • One two hour exam - 30%
  • Lecture/seminar participation and attendance - 10%

Suggested reading

  • Shahab Ahmed, What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic (2015) N297.22 /519772
  • Doris Behrens-Abouseif, Beauty in Arabic Culture (1999) N701.17 /782925
  • Olga Bush, Reframing the Alhambra: Architecture, Poetry, Textiles and Court Ceremonial (forthcoming 2018)
  • Valérie Gonzalez, Beauty and Islam: Aesthetics in Islamic Art and Architecture (2001) FS /843209
  • Oleg Grabar, The Mediation of Ornament (1992) FS /644144
  • Jamal Elias, Aisha’s Cushion: Religious Art, Perception, and Practice in Islam (2012) FS /742924
  • Navid Kermani, God is Beautiful: The Aesthetic Experience of the Quran (2014) N297.122 /747152
  • Oliver Leaman, Islamic Aesthetics: An Introduction (2001) FS /918030
  • Birgit Meyer (ed.), Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion, and the Senses (2010) A291.175 /739414
  • Jose Miguel Puerta Vilchez, Aesthetics in Arabic Thought: From Pre-Islamic Arabia through al-Andalus (2017) FS /530377


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules