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Associate Professor Samer Akkach
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Samer joined the University of Adelaide in 1993. He moved from Sydney where he received his Master of Architectural Design from the University of New South Wales in 1985, and his PhD from the University of Sydney in 1992. He is an established scholar in two fields of study: architectural history and theory and Islamic studies. He has a cross-cultural background, interdisciplinary research interests, and a unique mix of expertise. The spectrum of his expertise include:
· History and theory of architecture and landscape in general, and of Islamic art, architecture and landscape in particular.
· Intellectual history of the Arab-Islamic and Ottoman traditions in the early modern period (17th, 18th and 19th centuries), with a special focus on the Enlightenment and transitions into modernity in both the European and the Arab-Ottoman worlds.
· Socio-urban history of Middle Eastern cities in general, and Damascus in particular, during the early modern period, with special focus on the rise of urban secularism.
· Islamic cosmology (pre- and post-Copernican traditions), philosophy (pre- and early modern), and mysticism (pre- and early modern).
Centre for Asian and Middle Eastern Architecture (CAMEA)
Samer is Founding Director of the Centre for Asian and Middle Easter Architecture (CAMEA), which was founded in 1997. CAMEA's establishment coincided with major shifts in peoples’ attitudes towards the built environment caused by unsettling changes in three areas: environment, technology, and culture.
· Awareness of the long-term environmental consequences of modern urbanisation and industrialisation has highlighted the urgent need for new approaches to a sustainable future;
· Advanced communication technologies have called for new ways of perceiving and dealing with reality; and
· Intense cross-cultural interactions have generated a strong demand for broader and more culture-sensitive modes of architectural thinking.
CAMEA was founded to address the demand for new cross-cultural understanding of architecture in the context of these major global shifts. Despite the growing recognition of the importance of understanding cultural diversity, the foundations of most conventional approaches to the study of the constructed environments remain firmly seated in the European tradition. One of CAMEA’s long-term goals is to address the problems of Eurocentrism by opening up new horizons of thinking about our modern and pre-modern architecture, landscape, and urbanity. CAMEA's publications include:
S. Akkach et al (eds), Self, Place, and Imagination: Cross-Cultural Thinking in Architecture (Adelaide: CAMEA, 1999, 2nd printing 2000).
S. Akkach (ed.), De-Placing Difference: Architecture, Culture and Imaginative Geography (Adelaide: CAMEA, 2002, 2nd printing 2006).
P. Scriver (ed.), The Scaffolding of Empire (Adelaide: CAMEA, 2007).
Awards & Achievements
2012-15 ARC Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA).
2010-11 Visiting Professorship, Arab International University, Damascus.
2010 Honorary Fellowship, Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi’s Society, Oxford and Berkeley.
2010 AIA Neville Quarry Architectural Education Prize (commendation), for demonstrated national and international peer recognition of outstanding contributions to education in teaching, scholarship and/or research. http://www.architecture.com.au/i-cms?page=13970
2009 Hamad bin Khalifa fellowship for Islamic Art.
2003 University of Adelaide’s Stephen Cole the Elder prize for excellence in teaching.
2002 Visiting Research Fellowship at MIT, The Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.
2001 Society of Architectural Historians of North America’s Fellowship.
Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grants
2012-15 Project: Islam and the Ethos of Science in the Post-Copernican Period.
Sole Chief Investigator ($652,000.00, including DORA)
The tragic destruction of the freshly completed Istanbul observatory by Sultan Murad III (1547-1595) after financing it himself is one of the most puzzling events in the history of Islamic science. By examining this neglected event, the project sheds new light on critical phases in Islam's transition into modernity. It shows how a new fundamentalist cosmology was successfully promoted in the name of science as religious rationalism during the early Ottoman period, how this had led to the destruction of the observatory, how such rationalist approach was later adopted and promoted in the name of modernity and enlightenment by Muslim intellectuals, and how Islamic enlightenment and ensuing modernity had remained ambivalent on modern cosmology.
2009-11 Project: Islam and Secular Urban Culture in Early Modern Middle East.
Sole Chief Investigator ($306,000.00).
The project sheds new light on the urban history of early modernity, focusing on the role the coffee house and leisure garden played in the emergence of the secular urban culture of the modern city. It shows that, contrary to prevailing views, the novel urban practices of coffee drinking, smoking, singing, and entertaining in public that transformed the social organisation of the city, introducing new convivial sociability based on public exchange, emerged first in the Islamic culture and were embedded in the lifestyle of Middle-Eastern cities. It uncovers two centuries of virtually unknown debate on the socio-religious merit of urban secularism.
2006-09 Project: Islam, Modernity and the Enlightenment: A New Perspective.
Sole Chief investigator ($151,000.00).
The project sheds new light on the roots of modernity in Islamic thought, offering a new perspective that redefines the beginning of modern history of the Middle East. It reconstructs the Muslim project of the Enlightenment, presenting the key figures, the core ideas and debates, and the traits of the Islamic intellectual experience prior to the wholesale appropriation of the European model in the nineteenth century. It revisits a blurred, yet critical, moment in the history of encounters between Islam and the West, offering new understanding of Islam's fragile secularism and providing insights into the roots of the current crisis.
S. Akkach (2012) Intimate Invocations: Al-Ghazzī’s Biography of ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (1641-1731) (Leiden and Boston: Brill, Islamic History and Civilization series, Hardback, 850 pp.)
A specialised bilingual study (Arabic and English), presenting for the first time original Arabic text of the most comprehensive biography of ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī. The text is introduced by a lengthy study of text, the author, the subject, and the intellectual developments in early modern Damascus as a new framework for understanding al-Nābulusī’s extensive writings.
S. Akkach (2010) Letters of a Sufi Scholar: The Correspondence of ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (1641-1731) (Leiden and Boston: Brill, Islamic History and Civilization series, Hardback, 556 pp.)
A specialised bilingual study (Arabic and English), presenting for the first time the original Arabic letters of an eminent Damascene scholar together with a lengthy study of the culture of correspondence, postal history, and the intellectual exchange among Arab and Ottoman scholars in the early modern period. It is described as “an outstanding edition which forms a natural complement to Akkach’s biography of ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi.”
S. Akkach (2007) ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī: Islam and the Enlightenment (Oxford: Oneworld 2007, Makers of the Muslim World series, Hardback 172pp.)
An introductory study in comparative intellectual history, shedding new light on the intellectual developments in the Arab-Islamic and Ottoman worlds during the European Enlightenment and the century leading up to it. It introduces the life and works of an eminent and prolific, yet little known, figure of Islamic enlightenment, whose contributions to the intellectual history of Islam have hitherto not been examined.
S.Akkach (2005) Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam: An Architectural Reading of Mystical Ideas (Albany: SUNY 2005, SUNY Series in Islam, Hardback 288 pp., paperback edition in 2006, 2nd printing in 2009).
An interdisciplinary, specialised study, bringing together insights from Islamic cosmology, philosophy, theology, and mysticism and relating them to Islamic art and architecture. Described as “masterful, and a major contribution to architectural scholarship,” and “a timely book that should be read by all scholars interested in facing the divide between Islamic architectural historians and scholars of mystical philosophy and theology,” this work presents a substantial body of original material on the spiritual significance of Islamic art and architecture.
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