Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. A historian and architect, his research interests include the history and historiography of Islamic architecture, urbanism, and cultures, Mamluk history, modern Arab history, contemporary Arab art, and post-colonial criticism.
Professor Rabbat has published several books and numerous scholarly articles. His most recent books are The Destruction of Cultural Heritage: From Napoléon to ISIS (2016), co-edited with Pamela Karimi, and Al- Naqd Iltizaman: Nazarat fi-l Tarikh wal ‘Ururba wal Thawra (Criticism as Commitment: Viewpoints on History, Arabism, and Revolution) (2015). He is currently completing an intellectual biography of the 15th century historian al-Maqrizi and a book on the “Dead Cities”, a unique and threatened late-antique site in Syria.
He has previously published: Mamluk History Through Architecture: Building, Culture, and Politics in Mamluk Egypt and Syria (2010); Thaqafat al-Bina’ wa-Bina’ al-Thaqafa (The Culture of Building and Building Culture) (2002); and The Citadel of Cairo: A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk Architecture (1995). He edited The Courtyard House between Cultural Reference and Universal Relevance (2010, 2nd edition 2016), co-edited Making Cairo Medieval (2005), and co-authored Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition (2001).
Professor Rabbat regularly contributes to a number of Arabic newspapers on political and cultural issues. He lectures extensively in the US and abroad, consults with international design firms on projects in the Islamic world, and maintains several websites focused on Islamic architecture and urbanism. He has recently become involved in the debate on reconstruction and heritage conservation in Syria. He has established a collaborative research project at MIT, named “Ethics of Intervention”; co-founded Syrians for Heritage (SIMAT), an association concerned with the preservation of Syria’s cultural heritage; and co-curated, with Filiz Çakır Phillip, the exhibition “Syria: A Living History” at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto in 2016-17.
Rabbat, Nasser. 2011. What is Islamic Architecture? In Architecture in Islamic Arts: Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum. Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture
This article offers a critical review of scholarship on Islamic architecture in the last two centuries. It raises methodological and historiographical questions about the field’s formation, development, and historical and theoretical contours through a discussion of the positions of its main figures. One question treated here is that of how to study a culturally defined architectural tradition like Islamic architecture without reducing it to essential and timeless categories. Another question is that of how one is to critique the dominant Western paradigm without turning away from its comparative perspective. But the most important goal of the article is to reclaim the assumed temporal boundaries of Islamic architecture – Late Antiquity as a predecessor and modernism as a successor – as constitutive forces in its evolution and definition.