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Probing the Curse of Blue Eyes in the Islamic Middle Ages


 
− Queens College History Professor Kristina Richardson

  Receives Two-Year Marie Curie Fellowship for Research in Germany –

 

FLUSHING, NY, April 5, 2012 – From the advent of Islam in the 7th century, people with blue or green eyes – a rarity among Muslims – were considered unattractive, cursed, or evil. By the 10th century, blue eyes came to be associated with blindness and the supernatural – a physical defect that led to discrimination.

 

Although negative representations of blue and green eyes have appeared throughout Islamic art, literature and theology, the significance of this medieval Islamic phenomenon has never been studied. Queens College History Professor Kristina Richardson seeks to fill this gap when she moves to Germany this summer for a two-year research project at the University of Muenster’s Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies. While enjoying access to the institute’s extensive library, Richardson will “be geographically well situated” to take advantage of leading university libraries and archives in Berlin and Leiden, The Netherlands.

 

Richardson’s research, which she plans to expand into a book, will be funded through a Marie Curie Fellowship administered by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, an organization dedicated to academic research.  Launched last year with financing from the foundation and the European Union, the Curie fellowship supports work in the historical humanities, particularly in the fields of history, art history, archaeology and Islamic studies. International scholars submitted 225 proposals for the 2012-2014 cycle; of the 38 that won fellowships, only three were from American applicants.

 

“We are very pleased that one of our outstanding young faculty has won this prestigious fellowship,” says QC Provost James Stellar. “Kristina’s work and accomplishments are important and bring honor to herself, her department and the college. We look forward to sharing her findings and scholarship.”

 

Richardson has been teaching for four years at QC, which has a large Muslim student population, “most of whom are from South and Central Asia and speak Persian, Bengali and Urdu,” she says. “They’ve broadened my horizons, and I’ve learned a lot from them.” Currently on sabbatical, she has been researching the work of Shams al-Din Ibn Tulun, a leading Syrian legal scholar of the 16th century. She also serves as webmaster for the Arts of the Islamic World online museum, http://www.artsoftheislamicworld.org/, which the college acquired last year from the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, offering a virtual tour of over 100 outstanding Islamic arts pieces. 

Fluent in classical Arabic, French and English and proficient in Persian and modern standard Arabic, Richardson is an expert on medieval Islamic history and Arabic literature. She earned her PhD and master’s degrees in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan and her bachelor’s in History from Princeton University. Her first book, Difference and Disability in the Medieval Islamic World: Blighted Bodies, to be published this July by Edinburgh/Columbia University Press, investigates a generational chain of six male Sunni scholars linked by friendship and academic mentorship in Cairo, Damascus and Mecca. They produced writings about bodies marked by 'blights' a category that included individuals who were cognitively and physically different, disabled or ill. Richardson’s study of Islamic attitudes toward eye color is a direct outgrowth of this book.


 
 

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