Institute of Archaeology


Rethinking the Islamic State

The medieval roots of the Islamic state have never been more relevant or misunderstood. Early Islamic history is used to bolster Daesh propaganda of establishing a new caliphate as well as to justify the imposition of strict Sharia law, the oppression and genocide of religious minorities, and the destruction of Islamic (and pre-Islamic) heritage at an unprecedented rate. In turn, ISIL and other Wahhabi and Salafi groups are often critiqued by policy-makers and the world media as medieval in their methods and stance. These developments pose significant challenges for scholars of the early Islamic world.

A two-day conference hosted by the UCL Institute of Archaeology and generously funded by the British Academy under its Rising Star Engagement Award scheme aims to produce the first comparative account of the emergence of the earliest Islamic states and Muslim rulership, and to open up discussions about how to challenge the simplification of this complex history by ISIL and affiliate groups, western policy makers and the world media.

It will bring together scholars from three core disciplines (archaeology, history and art-history) to discuss the development of power and authority in the earliest Islamic states. It also will be the first to bring together scholars working in different regions: Spain, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. The aim is to explore the problem of the early Islamic state from these different disciplinary and regional perspectives and open up a range of ways looking at power and politics in the Islamic context.

Papers are invited on the following core themes:

  • Theoretical and methodological approaches to Islamic states
  • Discourse, authority and legitimization
  • Muslim sovereignty and rulership
  • The workings of the caliphate
  • Daesh and the use and abuse of early Islamic History

Funding is available to support the travel and accommodation costs of early career researchers from the UK and EU (defined as being within 10 years of award of PhD) who work on the history, archaeology or art history of the early Islamic State.

Scholars funded through this scheme will also attend a workshop as well as the conference "Researching the Islamic State: New Challenges and Opportunities".


  • Researching the Islamic State: New Challenges and Opportunities (March 2017)

Direct collaboration between archaeologists, historians and art-historians working on the Islamic world has been limited historically, largely due to differing disciplinary histories, regional traditions, research agendas, and training needs at the doctoral and post-doctoral level. The workshop is especially designed for early career researchers (including advanced postgraduate students) working in several disciplines including, but not limited to, Archaeology, History and Art History to reflect on current challenges and opportunities for scholars working on the early Islamic world.

Themes will include:

  • Writing about the Islamic World: Where, When, How to Publish
  • Funding Collaborative Research: UK and International Research Grants and Research Networks
  • Communicating Research Beyond the Academy - Media Tips & Tricks in the Digital Age
  • Keeping It Relevant: Policy and Public Engagement


  • The Origins of the Islamic State: Sovereignty and Power in the Middle Ages (February 2017)