Bringing together historians, philosophers, economists, and art historians, this conference offers a polyphonic and critical approach that will take us on a journey from West Africa to the Maghreb, from the Sahel to the Indian Ocean, to discover cultural productions and objects that carry counter-geographies and other narratives.

conference islam africa instiute advanced study marseille
Photo: Marc Boucherot

Islam in Africa, Africa in Islam: Intertwined Histories

On June 9th at Iméra, Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) of Aix-Marseille University (2 Place Leverrier, 13004)

Sub-Saharan Africa (black) and North Africa (white)? Arab Islam and African Islam? Orientalist studies of Islam and colonial anthropology on Africa have long followed a division of labor, with “oriental studies” focusing on North Africa and “African studies” on the south (S. Bachir Diagne, 2023). Today, the anti-migration policies of a Europe that “externalizes its borders” (A. Mbembe, 2011) reinforce the perception of the Sahara as a wall separating Africa into two. In contrast, this conference aims to immerse us in the “art of conversation” that societies in the African continent have always maintained with those of the Islamic world and the rest of the world (A. Benmakhlouf, 2016). This history is shaped by relations of domination and exploitation, but also by fruitful circulations and interactions at all scales (F. X. Fauvelle, 2022).


9:45 AM Welcome

10:00-10:20 AM Nadia Ali, Historian of Islamic Arts, FIAS/Iméra Research Fellow (2022-23), and Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow


SESSION 1: 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM

10:30-11:15 AM Romain Bertrand, Historian and Research Director at the Center for International Studies and Research (CERI), Sciences Po-CNRS:

“Missed Encounters with the World: Europe and Southeast Asia (16th-17th centuries)”

11:15 AM – 12:00 PM Prita Meier, Africanist & Associate Professor of Art History, New York University:

“The African Indian Ocean: Toward an Undisciplined Art History”

12:00-12:30 PM Discussion

Lunch Break: 12:30-2:00 PM

SESSION 2: 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM

2:00-2:45 PM Nadia Ali, Historian of Islamic Arts, FIAS/Iméra Research Fellow (2022-23), and recipient of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow:

“Late Antique Africa in Early Islamic Arts” 

2:45-3:30 PM Alain Fouad George, I.M. Pei Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture, Oxford University:

“Polychromy and Its Meanings in Islamic Arts, from the Maghreb to India”

3:30-4:00 PM Discussion

Coffee Break: 4:00-4:15 PM

SESSION 3: 4:15 PM – 6:15 PM

4:15-5:00 PM Umberto Bongianino, Lecturer in Islamic Art and Architecture, Oxford University:

“Why Care about the Inscribed Heritage of the Maghrib?”

5:00-5:45 PM Felwine Sarr, Economist/Philosopher and Anne-Marie Bryan Distinguished Professor in French and Francophone Studies, Duke University:

“Preliminaries to a History of Ideas in the Sahel”

5:45-6:15 PM Discussion and Conclusion

About the Organizer

Nadia Ali is a FIAS/Iméra Research Fellow (2022-23). Her research project at Iméra “Visual Cultures in Pre-Islamic Arabia (2nd-6th centuries): Revisiting the Myth of the Artless Arab” is the first attempt to explore the visual arts of Arabia before Islam (2nd-6th centuries) and aims to reintroduce questions of materiality into the history of the origins of Islam. Her research starts from the premise that in premodern societies where literacy was rare, visual languages and material cultures played a central role in the formation of identities, the construction of political authorities, and the constitution of religious practices.

Learn more.