Sicily, al-Andalus and the Maghreb: Writing in Times of Turmoil

Nicola Carpentieri's picture
May 4, 2017 to May 5, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Arabic History / Studies, Islamic History / Studies, Italian History / Studies, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies, Spanish and Portuguese History / Studies


Since medieval times, historians have been fascinated by the affinity between the Muslim periods of Iberia and Sicily, politically, culturally and geographically. Ibn Jubayr, the 12-century Andalusian traveler, articulated this fascination when he wrote about Sicily, after his shipwreck in Messina in 1184, offering his now oft-quoted comparison:

“the prosperity of the island surpasses description. It is enough to say that it is a daughter of Spain in the extent of its cultivation, in the luxuriance of its harvests, and in its well-being, having an abundance of varied produce, and fruits of every kind and species.” 

Besides their cultural affinities and a remarkably similar history, Muslim Sicily and al-Andalus shared a position of “frontier-states”, as westernmost strongholds of Islam against Christendom. Such a position, as is well known, determined a unique cultural milieu for both lands. Sicily and Iberia also had close but complex relations with their North African neighbours. These close relations were not only the result of geographical proximity, but also of a shared population: vast numbers of Arabs and Berbers who, after the conquest, settled in these lands. In spite of the shared ethnicities and population, the political interests of Iberia and Sicily came to diverge greatly from those of North Africa, as the two lands undertook their hyperbolic rise to autonomy. Finally, in their political twilight, both al-Andalus and Muslim Sicily had to negotiate new alliances with the North African kingdoms in order to guarantee their survival.

Subsequent phases of political upheaval shaped important traits of Iberian, Sicilian and North African literature. Islam's loss of cohesion and political sovereignty compelled Andalusian and Sicilian poets to redeploy canonical literary forms to voice momentous contemporary concerns. Shifting borders determined the migration of scholars and poets who transmitted, consolidated and expanded a shared cultural patrimony. Finally, transcultural encounters in these lands facilitated the rise of new vernacular forms and the adoption by Muslim, Jewish and Christian societies of "foreign" cultural practices and institutions, as well as literary tropes and themes. 

Our conference focusses on the periods of turmoil which affected Muslim Iberia, Sicily and the Maghreb, aiming to highlight the complexities of literary artifacts produced in times of political transition and shifting sovereignties, and to offer new perspectives on the cultural ties that were made and unmade throughout these periods. We auspicate that the conference will be a venue for collegial interaction between different generations of scholars and graduate students. Suggested topics include, but are not limited to: 

• representations of conflict and internecine strife
• cultural and aesthetic inclusion/rejection
• circulation of knowledge between al-Andalus, Sicily and the Maghreb
• articulation of private and public trauma
• negotiation of spaces and authority through literature
• new literary phoenomena

Keynote Speakers: Maribel Fierro (CSIC-Madrid), Francesca Maria Corrao (Luiss Guido Carli, Rome), Alex Metcalfe (Lancaster University), Giuseppe Mandalà (CSIC-Madrid), Alexander Elinson (Hunter College- New York), William Granara (Harvard University).

The conference proceedings will be published after acceptance by a peer committee. A number of travel grants are available for participants. There is no registration fee for this event. 

A working title should be submitted by December 15th, 2016. 
Abstracts should be submitted by Feb 3rd, 2017.
For further information and abstracts submissions contact Nicola Carpentieri:

Contact Info: 

Dr. Nicola Carpentieri

Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona