Taking a Longer View on Islamic Culture

Taking a Longer View on Islamic Culture

Calderwood professors Blair and Bloom author book, assist in new PBS film on history of Islam

By Rosanne Pellegrini
Staff Writer

For many Americans, the word "Islam" conjures up images of hotheaded religious zealots and cold-blooded terrorists, say Calderwood University Professors in Islamic and Asian Art Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom.

But the husband-and-wife scholars seek to instill a far different view of Islamic culture, and of the religion that has more than a billion followers around the globe.

Blair and Bloom have authored Islam: A Thousand Years of Faith and Power, which documents the first millennium of the religion from its origins in the deserts of Arabia to its emergence as a guiding force behind several world powers.

The book is a companion to Gardner Films' three-hour PBS documentary, "Islam: Empire of Faith," which is scheduled to premiere on May 8. Blair and Bloom served as consultants and were interviewed on camera for the documentary.

Blair and Bloom arranged for part one of the series to be shown today at 4 p.m. in Devlin Hall as part of the Boston College Arts Festival. A discussion with producer/director Robert Gardner and associate producer Char Gardner will follow the screening.

"We wrote the book to counter some of the negative stereotypes and misconceptions most Americans hold about Islam," Bloom said. "Most people only know about terrorists. They don't realize that modern civilization got everything from algebra to paper via the Islamic lands. We've spent two decades teaching students about Islamic civilization through its art. This was the first time we've had an opportunity to address a truly general audience."

In its first thousand years, said Blair and Bloom, Islamic civilization flourished in a string of glittering cities-including Cordoba, Fez, Cairo, Istanbul, Baghdad, and Samarqand. While Europe suffered through the Dark Ages, Muslims expanded the boundaries of human knowledge in literature, art, science and medicine.

The book chronicles Islam's rise to world prominence, from its revelation to the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam, and its spread within a century of the Prophet's death, through its golden age of empire and the forging of a rich new culture, to the changes it experienced after the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.

A Thousand Years of Faith and Power includes full-color reproductions of the art and iconography of Muslim civilization, and provides an historical narrative and a tool to understanding the current issues surrounding Islamic religion and politics.

Blair and Bloom also helped develop a World Wide Web site, www.pbs.org.empires/islam, to accompany "Islam: Empire of Faith." It features an interactive timeline that highlights the key events in the rise of Islam with integrated references to the development of Christianity and Judaism, and video clips showcasing important sites.


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