Nasser Rabbat



Nasser Rabbat is the Aga Khan Professor and the Director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT.  His interests include the history and historiography of Islamic architecture, medieval urbanism, modern Arab history, contemporary Arab art, and post-colonial criticism.  He has published several books, most recently ‘Imarat al-Mudun al-Mayyita: Nahwa Qira’a Jadida lil-Tarikh al-Suri (The Architecture of the Dead Cities: Toward a New Interpretation of the History of Syria) (2018); an online book, The Destruction of Cultural Heritage: From Napoléon to ISIS, co-edited with Pamela Karimi, (2016) and al-Naqd Iltizaman: Nazarat fi-l Tarikh wal ‘Ururba wal Thawra (Criticism as Commitment: Viewpoints on History, Arabism, and Revolution) (2015) ), which deals with the roots and consequences of the "Arab Spring."  He is currently writing an intellectual biography of the 15th century Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi who penned the first true urban history of Cairo. 

He has previously published: Mamluk History Through Architecture: Building, Culture, and Politics in Mamluk Egypt and Syria (London, 2010), which won the British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize in Middle Eastern Studies, 2011; al-Mudun al-Mayyita: Durus min Madhih wa-Ru’an li-Mustaqbaliha (The Dead Cities: Lessons from its History and Views on its Future) (Damascus, 2010); Thaqafat al Bina’ wa Bina’ al-Thaqafa (The Culture of Building and Building Culture) (Beirut, 2002); and The Citadel of Cairo: A New Interpretation of Royal Mamluk Architecture (Leiden, 1995).  He edited The Courtyard House between Cultural Reference and Universal Relevance (London, 2010, 2d edition 2016), co-edited Making Cairo Medieval (Lantham, Md, 2005), and co-authored Interpreting the Self: Autobiography in the Arabic Literary Tradition (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2001). 

Prof. Rabbat worked as an architect in Los Angeles and Damascus in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  He was a visiting professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Paris (2009) and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich (2007).  Among his honors are a Senior Residence at The American Academy in Rome, 2017-2018; Senior Fellowship, Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg, University of Bonn, Germany, 2015-16, Summer 2017, Summer 2018; Fellowship, Institut d’études avancées, Paris, France, Spring 2016; Fellowship, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study (2011-12), Fellowship, the American Research Center in Egypt (2007-08, 1999-00 and 1988-89), the Chaire de l’Institut du Monde Arabe (2003), the J. Paul Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship (1993-94), and the Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award, Humanities Section, The Middle East Studies Association (MESA), 1991.   He regularly contributes to a number of Arabic newspapers on current political and cultural issues, including al-Hayat, al-‘Arabi al-Jadid, and al-Adab.  He serves on the boards of various cultural and educational organizations and consults with international design firms on projects in the Islamic World.  

Recently, Rabbat became involved in the debate on the preservation of the heritage in Syria and in the planning for reconstruction in his devastated native country.  To that end he has formed a collaborative research project at MIT, named Ethics of Intervention, which strives to frame the debates on the preservation of heritage and in the planning for reconstruction in countries devastated by civil wars within ethical, civil, and humanistic frameworks.  He has co-curated with Filiz Çakır Phillip the exhibition, “Syria: A Living History,” at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto between October 2016 and March 2017.   In April 2017, he co-founded Syrians for Heritage (SIMAT) a new professional association concerned with the preservation of the threatened Syrian cultural heritage.  He was guest in several episodes of the BBC series: the Museum of Lost Objects and on reconstruction in Syria.  He has also published several essays in recent years on immigration, refugees’ issues, heritage conservation, and destruction and reconstruction in Artforum, Critical Inquiry, the International Journal of Islamic Architecture, and The London Review of Books.