14 March 2008 --
Ismail Serageldin explored architectural and artistic expressions, past and present, in the Muslim world in his lecture on ‘Modernization and Cultural Identity in Islam’ at the Institute of Ismaili Studies. Beginning with an overview of the fractured state of the contemporary global landscape, with its economic and social winners on the one hand and extreme poverty and marginalization on the other, Serageldin inquired into its impact on public cultures. He defined culture as ‘a complex whole of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. Serageldin challenged the dichotomies of ‘modern and traditional’, ‘high tech and low tech’, ‘materialism and spirituality’ and ‘Muslim and non-Muslim’ that pervade popular culture. He used several artistic examples from the pre-modern period and juxtaposed them against the works of modern painters like Mondrian and Giacometti to show the remarkable continuities in style. An enthusiastic question and answer session followed with special focus on the impact of economic and social factors in the Muslim understanding of modernity and tradition.