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Annual Marco Symposium


The annual Marco Symposium is held every year in late March or early April. The Symposium brings 10 leading experts in their field to the University of Tennessee for two days of talks on that year’s theme. A round-table discussion by all the participants concludes the weekend.

The Symposium is Marco’s signature event of the year, and typically attracts members of the larger Knoxville community in addition to students and faculty at UT and scholars from across the region. The theme of the Symposium changes each year. Faculty who are interested in submitting a proposal should contact


2018 Symposium: Navigating Language in the Early Islamic World

April 6-7, 2018
UT International House Great Room

In the last few years of the seventh century, the Marwānid Reforms established Arabic as the administrative language of the Umayyad Caliphate. Coins, inscriptions, and papyri subsequently attest the use of Arabic in caliphal and local administration. Despite the centrality of Arabic as a sacred language to Muslims, the language of the Qurʾān, it was appreciated across religious boundaries such that Christians and Jews quickly began composing and engaging texts in Arabic. Arabic adorns monuments, manuscripts, and clothing, attesting to its broad appeal and high aesthetic value.

Yet despite its centrality, Arabic did not spread evenly or quickly throughout the entire Islamic world. Even though Arabic became a commercial and religious language from Central Asia to the Iberian Peninsula, the populations of many provinces continued to write and converse in other languages such as Persian, Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac, to name a few. This symposium situates the history of Arabic and Arabization within a broader setting of linguistic diversity in the Islamic world in three ways. First, it seeks to understand multilingualism in an ethnically and religiously pluralist environment, including through engagement with studies of the pre-Islamic Near East. Second, it explores the way that communities produced, employed, and transformed Arabic in their own settings. Third, it contributes to the ongoing discussion of textual and oral transmission of narratives and historical accounts between the various languages of the Islamic world.

The 2018 Symposium is organized by UTK professors Manuela Ceballos (Religious Studies), Tina Shepardson (Religious Studies), and Alison Vacca (History), together with Antoine Borrut (History, Univ. of Maryland).


Image: C 240 (obv), The David Collection, Copenhagen. Photo: Pernille Klemp.


Full detailed program available as a PDF here.

All sessions will take place in the Great Room of the UT International House (1623 Melrose Ave.)


FRIDAY, April 6:

8:45-9:30 Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:30-9:45 Welcome and Opening Remarks by Riggsby Director Jay Rubenstein

9:45-12:15 Session I (Moderator: Tina Shepardson, UTK)

  • Muriel Debié (Directeur d’études in Religious Studies, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris) – “The Languages of Diplomacy and Religion in the Late Antique Near East: the Arab Tribes and Surrounding Official Languages”
  • Khodadad Rezakhani (Associate Research Scholar, Princeton University) – “Pidginisation, Creolisation, and Hybridity: the Interaction of Languages in the Early Islamic East Iran and Transoxiana”
  • Petra Sijpesteijn (Professor of Arabic, Universiteit Leiden): “A Policy of Multilingualism in the Early Muslim Empire”

12:15-1:45 Lunch in Black Cultural Center

1:45-5:00 Session II (Moderator: Ryan Lynch, Columbus State)

  • Phillip Stokes (Assistant Professor of Arabic, UTK) – “New Perspectives on the Linguistic Landscape of Arabic in the Early Islamic Period”
  • Fred Astren (Professor and Chair of Jewish Studies, San Francisco State University) – “‘Abbāsid Book Culture and Ninth-Century Jewish Sectarianism”
  • Judith A. Lerner (Research Associate, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU) – “From Bactrian to Arabic: Seals and Sealing Practices Observed in the Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Documents from Bactria”
  • Alison Vacca (Assistant Professor of History, UTK) – “Language, Power, and Storytelling: Arabic in Caliphal Armenia”


SATURDAY, April 7:

10:00-10:30 Registration and Continental Breakfast

10:30-12:00 Conversations

  • Pamela Klasova (Georgetown University)
  • Abby Kulisz (Indiana University)
  • Kader Smail (University of Maryland)

12:00-1:30 Lunch in I-House Community Room

1:30-4:00 Session III (Moderator: Matthew Gordon, Miami University)

  • Aaron Butts (Assistant Professor of Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures, Catholic University of America) – “Intersections between Arabic and Aramaic: The Case of Syriac Christians”
  • Marie Legendre (Lecturer of History, SOAS) – “State Representation vs. Practical Use: the Administrative Languages of the Umayyads”
  • Antoine Borrut (Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland) – “Towards an Arabic Cosmopolis: Culture and Power in Early Islam”

4:00-5:00 Round Table Discussion


Registration Information:

The Marco Symposium is free and open to the public.

There is no official registration required, but it would help us to know that you are planning to come so that we can get a better head count and can print you a name tag. Please email our Program Coordinator, Dr. Katie Hodges-Kluck, at


Lodging for the 2018 Symposium:

  • We have set aside a small block of rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn Knoxville/University for people attending the 2018 Symposium. The hotel is located next to campus, approximately one block from the UT International House, where most Symposium events will take place. A limited number of queen rooms are available at the rate of $129/night. To book, call the Hilton Garden Inn at 865-437-5500 and ask for group code MAA, or follow this link to book online: special room rate will be available until March 15th or until the group block is sold out, whichever comes first.
  • The University of Tennessee has a limited number of residences available to university guests at the rate of $40/night. For information on these, visit:


Guest Parking Information:

Non-UT guests may purchase parking permits valid for any commuter (C) or non-commuter (N) parking area. The cost will be $5.00 per day per permit. Please visit Parking and Transit Services located at 2121 Stephenson Drive to obtain your permit. Their office hours are 7:30 am to 4:45 pm, Monday through Friday. Tell them that you are attending the Marco Symposium.

Free street parking is available in the neighborhoods around campus (e.g. Fort Sanders), but cannot be guaranteed. Guests can also get to campus via the free trolley from downtown.

The campus map is available online here.


Past Symposia

2017 Marco Symposium

Carolingian Experiments

2016 Marco Symposium
Rome: Beyond the Discourse of Renewal
2015 Marco Symposium
‘Cry Havoc!’: War, Diplomacy and Conspiracy in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
2014 Marco Symposium
Reconceiving Pre-Modern Spaces
2012 Marco Symposium
Grounding the Book: Readers, Writers, and Places in the Pre-Modern World
2011Symposium 2011 Marco Symposium
Gardens, Real and Imagined
2010Symposium 2010 Marco Symposium
The Building Blocks of France
2009Symposium 2009 Marco Symposium
Humanism and Its Economies
2007Symposium 2007 Marco Symposium
Saints & Citizens: Religion and Politics in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance
2006Symposium 2006 Marco Symposium
The Book of Travels: Genre, Ethnology, Pilgrimage from 1250-1650

2005Symposium 2005 Marco Symposium
Interactions and Images: Cultural Contacts Across Eurasia, 600-1600

2004Symposium 2004 Marco Symposium
Spectacle and Public Performance in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

2003Symposium 2003 Marco Symposium

Books and Readers in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

2002Symposium 2002 Marco Symposium

Scripture and Pluralism: The Study of the Bible in the Sectarian Worlds of the Middle Ages and Renaissance

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