About MIRI – University of Copenhagen


English / Arabic

About MIRI: Translating the Art and Archaeology of the Islamic World

Copenhagen University’s Materiality in Islam Research Initiative (MIRI) is a research-oriented focus group comprising Danish-based and international scholars who, through a modern appreciation of Islamic art and archaeology, seek to forge cultural and social understanding with the contemporary Muslim world.
MIRI is based in the Department of Cross Cultural and Regional Studies (ToRS, the Danish acronym), the Faculty of Humanities, The University of Copenhagen, Denmark.


The MIRI Concept
Manifestations of human thought and values in the material world (the human landscape) present unfettered insights into the belief systems of past peoples, as they continue to do today. Innovation, continued appreciation, borrowing, reinterpretation, and rejection of form and style in material culture reflect conscious choices by producers, consumers and viewers alike. Collectively, these developments reveal changing and divergent views on faith, politics, economic systems, and human relations at the community level.
The study into the materiality of the Islamic World strives to offer new and increasingly refined understanding on the formation, development, and consolidation of Islamic society. It especially seeks to comprehend the inner workings of communities in Islamic lands at the everyday level rarely preserved in other sources and, as a consequence, often unappreciated and commonly underutilized in historical studies. The time period under evaluation spans some 1,400 years, from beginnings of Islam until the early twentieth century. Also to be assessed is the influence, interpretation, and perception of the material past in modern societies, both within and outside the Islamic world, and the contribution of the past in understanding contemporary beliefs and behaviour.


MIRI is composed of members from Copenhagen University and a number of international affiliates, as listed on the People page. Themed meetings, in the form of “dialogues”, are to be held on various aspects of materiality in Islamic material culture (art, archaeology, architecture) between autumn 2011 and spring 2014. These will be progressively announced on the Calendar page.




The ground work for the conceptualisation and establishment of the Materiality in Islamic Research Initiative was made possible by the generous support of the C. L. David Foundation and Collection in the sponsoring of a chair in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of Copenhagen. Thanks are due to the Board and Directors of the C. L. David Foundation and Collection, especially Dr Kjeld von Folsach, the Museum’s Director.

Following important progress under the first holder of the position, Claus-Peter Haase (subsequently Director of the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin), the position was taken up by Alan Walmsley in 2002. In addition to undergraduate and post-graduate instruction and supervision, research-based teaching was instituted with the Danish-Jordanian Islamic Jarash Project in 2002, which has since provided both academic and practical experience and skills for students graduating in Near Eastern studies. Since 2009 the C. L. David Foundation and Collection has provided significant funding for conducting conservation and heritage work at Jarash (including site presentation, object recording, conservation of finds, and education initiatives), and through the financing of a doctoral student from Jordan at the University of Copenhagen.

With the support and encouragement of professors Ingolf Thuesen and Peder Mortensen of the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, research parameters in Islamic art and archaeology have expanded greatly in the last few years, with collaborative projects based in Syria (The Rural Islamic Syria Project and The Upper Orontes Watermill Documentation Project; Stephen McPhillips), Egypt (Between Monastery and Society in Late Antique Coptic Egypt; Louise Blanke), Turkmenistan (Karakum Routes Survey; Paul Wordsworth), and Qatar (The Qatar Islamic Archaeology and Heritage Project; Ingolf Thuesen and Alan Walmsley, supported by the Qatar Museums Authority), in addition to a new initiative in Jordan (The Aylah Archaeological Project; Kristoffer Damgaard). MIRI offers a home and intellectual exchange network, locally and internationally, for these ground-breaking research programs into the material culture and art of the Islamic world, from the formative centuries until the early twentieth century.

C. L. David Foundation and Collection
The Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin
The Danish-Jordanian Islamic Jarash Project
Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies
Qatar Museums Authority