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Wendy Shaw wins Honorable Mention for the most important book award in Middle Eastern Studies

Professor at Freie Universität wins 2020 Albert Hourani Book Award Honorable Mention

№ 213/2020 from Nov 12, 2020

For her book What Is “Islamic” Art? Between Religion and Perception (Cambridge University Press, 2019), Prof. Dr. Wendy M. K. Shaw has received the Honorable Mention of the 2020 Albert Hourani Book Award, the most significant prize in Middle Eastern Studies worldwide. Professor Shaw also recently won the Award for Excellent Supervision, with which the Dahlem Research School honors professors at Freie Universität Berlin for outstanding doctoral supervision. A scholarship linked to the DRS award serves to promote young scholars.

In her book, Shaw explores the perception of arts, including painting, music, and geometry through the discursive sphere of historical Islam including the Qur’an, Hadith, Sufism, ancient philosophy, and poetry. Her emphasis on the experience of reception over the context of production enables a new approach, not only to Islam and its arts, but also as a model for global approaches to art history. Shaw’s meticulous interpretations of intertextual themes in Islamic intellectual history span antique philosophies, core religious and theological texts, and prominent prose and poetry in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu that circulated across regions of Islamic hegemony from the eleventh century to the colonial and postcolonial contexts of the modern Middle East. Through her analysis, she develops a decolonial approach to the cultures of perception in Islam.

The award committee noted that “Professor Shaw’s book is a bold and successful attempt to reconceptualize the historiography of Islamic art. To do so, Shaw takes ‘Islam’ seriously as a category of analysis, arguing that it drives the production of Islamic art, rather than being incidental to it. She places in generative tension the Islamic and Western paradigms for understanding agency and subjectivity.”

The Albert Hourani Book Award was established in 1991 to recognize outstanding publishing in Middle East studies. Announced at the Middle East Studies Association’s Annual Meeting, the award honors works that exemplify innovative basic research, scholarly excellence, and clarity of presentation. Professor Shaw’s book is the second art historical publication in the history of the award.

Wendy M. K. Shaw received her doctorate from UCLA in 1999. Her work focuses on postcolonial art historiography and decolonial art history of the Islamic world and the modern Middle East. She works at the intersection between art history, historiography, museum history, and critical theory. She is the author of four monographs, Possessors and Possessed: Museums, Archaeology, and the Visualization of History in the Late Ottoman Empire (University of California Press, 2003), Ottoman Painting: Reflections of Western Art from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic (IB Tauris, 2011), What Is “Islamic” Art? Between Religion and Perception (Cambridge University Press, 2019), and Loving Writing: Techniques of Fact-based Communication at the University and Beyond (Routledge, forthcoming). Wendy M. K. Shaw holds an untenured professorship in art history of Islamic cultures at the Art History Institute of Freie Universität Berlin.

Further Information


Prof. Dr. Wendy Shaw, Art History Institute, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-65673, Email: wendy.shaw@fu-berlin.de