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Alina Kokoschka (Alumna BGSMCS)

Commodity World Islam - Consumption Culture and Commodity Aesthetics in Contemporary Syria

Commodity World Islam - Consumption Culture and Commodity Aesthetics in Contemporary Syria

How can we approach aesthetics of contemporary Islam in Syria and beyond? Firstly, not without talking about commodities and consumption culture, i.e. the ways and strategies of making commodities perceptible: Current (Re)Islamization tendencies around the globe are strongly connected to commodities and consumption. Furthermore, things and materials have a prominent position in the sources Qurʾān and Sunna, which is rarely looked at. Secondly, not by taking the path of Islamic art history: Speaking of aesthetics in contemporary Islam lacks basic terms and categories, especially those that are neither judgmental nor developed only in the context of Western art history.
Instead, I let the things themselves rise to speak. The result is a combined approach with elements from Islamic studies, material culture studies, and philosophy. Based on this, researching Muslim consumption cultures and the aesthetics of commodities with a Muslim target group in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon has led to answers with wider implications for the discussion of the aesthetics of contemporary Islam.

Syria under Bashar al-Asad in the pre-war period (2000-2011), is not only visually but with all senses perceivable increasingly a!ected by Islam. Commodities are an important part of this, especially in the context of what I have come to call „demonstrative piety“. The commodities „made for Muslims“ are not only an expression of this trend towards Islam. Things with Islamic connotation - on o!er in every price range - are a means to practice Islam through perception and design and by using them as „material citations“ of the sources of Islam.
The here carried out analysis of Syrian Muslim consumption culture has proven meaningful beyond the above question. Against the background of contrasting material from #eldwork in Turkey and Lebanon, the variety of possible connotations due to historical, economical, political and societal di!erences has become visible. This, in combination with critical re"ections on „aesthetics“ and „Islamic art“, has led to theoretical #ndings regarding mass consumption, fetishes and magic. Thereby, it has become clear that processes of social distinction are not only important to consider inside the respective #eld, but also on a transcultural level.

„Fictitious Fakes“, i.e. invented branded goods, that are available and popular all over Syria, have drawn the attention to Western ideals of originality and realness. This touches wider debates on copyright and imitation. Furthermore, these seemingly „wrong“ copies of Western goods, that are not su'ciently debated in secondary literature, induced me to the inclusion of Islamic practices of citation and copying in the process of analysis. Formal rules for commentaries and citation within the #eld of religious texts can be recognized in commenting citations of material goods or labels. Finally, considering practices of „displaying and concealing“ as a category of analysis, that I have derived from my material, has shown that political, economic and religious spheres are intertwined in terms of aesthetics and in terms of rules of what can be acceptably shown in public. Even more, what must be shown in public from a moral point of view.
The inclusion of extensive visual material in this study is not only an illustration. The photographic essays and visual footnotes mirror my critical discussion on how to do research on contemporary sensual culture and they o!er an active inclusion of the reader.

Extended Version (German)

First Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Gudrun Krämer

Second Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Birgit Krawietz

  • Kokoschka, Alina and Krawietz, Birgit. 2013. "Appropriation of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya. Challenging Expectations of Ingenuity", in George Tamer and Birgit Krawietz (eds), Islamic Theology, Philosophy and Law. Debating Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, Berlin: DeGruyter, pp. 1-36.