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The Futures Past of al-Andalus: Reflections, Refrains, Returns

Keynote address by Jonathan Shannon

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 The Futures Past of al-Andalus: Reflections, Refrains, Returns
 The Futures Past of al-Andalus: Reflections, Refrains, Returns

Date & Location

Sep 10, 2021, 3:30 PM GMT+1

Online Event, Zoom

About the Event

As part of the workshop, The Musical Afterlives of al-Andalus: Identities and Encounters beyond History, the MESG team is delighted to present an online public keynote delivered by Prof. Jonathan Shannon (Hunter College, CUNY)

‘The Futures Past of al-Andalus: Reflections, Refrains, Returns’

The Andalusi musical and poetic legacies continue to exercise our imaginations even into the 21st century. The Andalusi legacies and heritages reverberate across time and place and continue to inspire not only scholarship but also cultural productions around the world in a wide range of mediums: in music and poetry, of course, but also in theater, painting, architecture, cuisine, and other forms of popular culture.  What can we learn not only about but from the story of al-Andalus as a “first-rate place” and “culture of tolerance” (Menocal), and as a global project in the face of intolerances – Islamophobia, what Fuchs calls “Maurophobia,” amidst rising populist politics? What lessons can we learn from reinventions of the Andalusi legacies, both historical and contemporary?

Drawing on scholars of the Andalusi literary and musical legacies – including the distinguished participants at this very conference – in this talk I explore what might be called “the staying power” of the Andalusi tropos in contemporary academic and popular discourses. I explore the powerful afterlives (Civantos) and futures past of the Andalusi legacy, focusing on three contexts: the Mediterranean, the Levant, and the Gulf. I have previously argued that al-Andalus remains popular because it is “good to think” (Levi-Strauss) and thus the rhetoric of al-Andalus remains relevant for wide audiences around the Arab world, the Mediterranean, and beyond.  Yet, while ideas of a shared heritage are compelling, to what extent are they also misleading, possibly dangerous? What might be an Andalusi term for whitewashing history? I review recent works that compel us to move beyond the discourses of tolerance and influence toward a more nuanced (and politically engaged) understanding of the role of these legacies in the cultural politics of the current moment.


Jonathan H. Shannon is Professor of Anthropology, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York. He earned his B.A. in English Literature from Stanford University and the Ph.D. in Anthropology from the CUNY Graduate Center. His research and writing focus on culture in the Mediterranean and Arab world, with a special focus on Syria, Morocco, Spain, and Turkey. He is the author of numerous articles, two scholarly monographs (Among the Jasmine Trees: Music and Modernity in Contemporary Syria, 2006; Performing al-Andalus: Music and Nostalgia across the Mediterranean, 2015), and a novel (A Wintry Day in Damascus: Syrian Stories, 2012). Shannon is the recipient of many awards and fellowships, including from Fulbright and Guggenheim. He is currently working on two projects: a book on Syrian migrant musicians from Syria to Scandinavia, and a collection of essays on itineraries of sounds, spices, and poetry around the Mediterranean. In addition, he performs on the oud (Arabian lute). From 2018-2021 he was Visiting Professor of Anthropology, Head of the Music Program, and Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities at NYU Abu Dhabi.

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