The Metaverse and its Premoderns: Islam in an Expanding Reality

Presented by the Immersive Technology Collective, a multiyear cluster of the Incubator for Transdisciplinary Futures.

In February 2022, Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs landed in the news when it announced that performing the pilgrimage to Mecca in the Metaverse does not count as a 'real hajj'. Mixed reactions to this declaration aside, this talk argues that, in the Metaverse era, the existence of a visible but immaterial realm is not just avant-garde, post-modern, or, worse, a 'blameworthy innovation'.

Instead, today’s Muslim imaginary world draws upon and finds echoes in premodern Islamic artworks, objects, and other forms of creative expression. Today’s Metaverse also recalls the so-called 'realm of similitudes' ('alam al-mithal') developed within Islamic dream thought, whose definitional contours and imagistic boundaries vary and enlarge over time. Such changes occur not only in the minds of spiritual sojourners, but also through technological interventions, all of which converge today to craft immersive worlds that reaffirm a historical past, play with forms in the present, and project creative visions of what might come next.

Speaker bio: Christiane Gruber is Professor of Islamic Art and Former Chair of the History of Art Department at the University of Michigan as well as Founding Director of Khamseen: Islamic Art History Online. Her scholarly work (available here) explores medieval to contemporary Islamic art, especially figural representation, depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, manuscripts and book arts, architecture, and modern visual and material cultures. Her two most recent publications include The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images and The Image Debate: Figural Representation in Islam and Across the World, and her public-facing essays have appeared in Newsweek, The Conversation, Prospect Magazine, Jadaliyya, and New Lines, among others.