Fall 2014

The Art of the Talisman

Listed in: Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-381  |  Asian Languages and Civilizations, as ASLC-381


Yael R. Rice (Section 01)


(Offered as ARHA 381 and ASLC 381.)  The term “talisman,” from telesma (Greek) and tilsam (Arabic), has traditionally been defined as a magical object that is believed to repel harmful or evil forces. According to this view, a talisman is more interesting for what it does rather than what it represents or how it looks. Taking the arts of the Near East and South Asia as its primary frame, this course aims to move beyond these standard claims to examine the aesthetic dimensions of the talisman. What forms do talismans assume, and why? How—and with what materials, texts, and physical senses (smell, sight, touch)—are talismans made? And in what ways does this intersection of multiple systems of knowledge challenge basic assumptions regarding the relationship between art and reality? Among the objects we will explore are amulets, prayer scrolls, astrological materials, illustrated divination manuscripts, books of wonders, and talismanic clothing. While our case studies will be drawn mainly from the Islamic and South Asian spheres, students will have the opportunity to investigate a topic outside these realms for their final research project. Participation in class discussion, a significant component of the course, is expected. All readings will be available in English. One class meeting per week.

Requisite: One course in History of Art, History, Anthropology, or Religion. Limited to 20 students. Permission required for first-year students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Rice.

If Overenrolled: Preference will be given to ASLC and ARHA majors and seniors, then juniors in order to achieve a range of students across the disciplines.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014