Islamic Occultism in Theory and Practice


About The Event

The international conference of “Islamic Occultism in Theory and Practice” was held at the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), 6-8 January 2017, coinciding with the final week of an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum titled “Power and Protection: Islamic Art and the Supernatural”.

This was the first gathering of scholars that closely considered the relationship between Islamic occultist theory and practice, bridging the gap between material culture, manuscript studies and intellectual history; and on an institutional level, between the curatorial and academic spheres. The conference also highlighted the special and evocative status of divinatory and magical objects – material and spiritual, visual and devotional – and the manifestation of this uniqueness in occult works which often contain images, diagrams, cosmographies, and symbols. Furthermore, it was an opportunity to evaluate curatorial, codicological and historiographic practices and methods in the field and provide a platform for junior researchers to engage with established scholars and present new findings in a growing field. More broadly, therefore, the conference helped consolidate the new field of Islamic occultism, establishing it as a useful and fruitful area of research.

Please find below the conference program.


  • Keynote by Charles Burnett (The Warburg Institute): Magic as the Completion of Human Knowledge in Arabic and Latin Literature
  • Panel 1: Hermetism and Sabianism in Islamic Magic. Chair:  Francesca Leoni

– Liana Saif (Université catholique de Louvain/University of Oxford): Evaluating the Pseudo-Aristotelian Hermetica and Its Impact on Magic in Medieval Islam

– Michael Noble (The Warburg Institute): Sabian Occult Ritual as an Alternative Path to Human Perfection

  • Panel 2: Islamic Talismans—Arabic and Turkish, Sunni and Shiʿi. Chair:  Edgar Francis

– Francesca Leoni (Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford): Wasila/Wasita: A Turkish Talisman

– Maryam Ekhtiar (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York): Islamic Talismans on the Battlefield: The Sunni/Shiʿi Divide

  • Panel 3: Magic Squares and Indian Mages in Arabic Manuscripts. Chair:  Francesca Leoni

– Bink Hallum (British Library): Magic Squares in the Renaissance of Islam: New Light on Early Arabic awfāq Literature

– Jean-Charles Coulon (Paris-Sorbonne University): The Kitāb Sharāsīm al-Hindiyya and Medieval Islamic Occult Sciences

  • Panel 4: The Brethren of Purity, Old and New. Chair: Noah Gardiner

– Godefroid de Callataÿ (Université catholique de Louvain) and Liana Saif: The Epistle on Magic in the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʾ

– Matthew Melvin-Koushki (University of South Carolina): Astronomers, Lettrists and Sultan-Scientists Mathematize the Cosmos: Neopythagorean Occultism at the Samarkand Observatory of Ulugh Beg

  • Panel 5: Occult Libraries and Their Contents. Chair:  Matthew Melvin-Koushki

– Noah Gardiner (University of South Carolina): The Occult Library of the Mamlūk Sultan al-Malik al-Ẓāhir Barqūq

– Yasmine Al-Saleh (Dār al-Āthār al-Islāmiyya, Kuwait): The Purple Talismanic Scroll

  • Panel 6: Amulets and Magic Bowls, Past and Present. Chair:  Farouk Yahya

– Roberta Giunta (University of Naples “L’Orientale”): Islamic Magic Bowls: Towards a Comprehensive Investigation

– Christiane Gruber (University of Michigan): Bereket Bargains: Islamic Amulets in Today’s Turkey

  • Panel 7: Alchemy, Astrology and Astrological Alchemy. Chair:  Nicholas Harris

– Astrological Concepts in the Alchemical Kashf al-asrār fī hatk al-astār

– Ahmet Tunç Şen (Leiden University): In Defense of Astrology: Muʾayyadzāda ʿAbd al-Raḥmān’s (d. 1516) Rebuttal of Anti-Astrology Arguments

  • Panel 8: Ciphers and Symbols in Islamic Occult Science. Chair:  Liana Saif

– Nicholas Harris (University of Pennsylvania): Ciphers and Secrecy: Alchemy, Cryptography, and the Occult

– Blanca Villuendas (University of Barcelona): The Dilemmas of an Editorial Project: Ibn al-Maḥfūf’s Book on the Triplets in Geomancy

  • Panel 9: Occult Calligraphy in Islamic Southeast Asia. Chair:  Michael Noble

– Farouk Yahya (Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford): Calligrams of the Lion of ʿAli in Southeast Asia

– Fiona Kerlogue (Horniman Museum, London): Calligraphic Batiks

  • Roundtable: Emilie Savage-Smith (University of Oxford), Venetia Porter (British Museum, London), Azfar Moin (University of Texas at Austin)



  • Cost: Free
  • Total Slot: 0
  • Booked Slot: 0

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Our Speakers

Bink Hallum
Charles Burnett
Christiane Gruber
Francesca Leoni
Godefroid de Callataÿ
Jean-Charles Coulon
Liana Saif
Maryam Ekhtiar
Matthew Melvin-Koushki
Michael Noble
Noah Gardiner
Roberta Giunta
Yasmine Al-Saleh
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