Sara Susanne Kuehn

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2013/2014
discipline Art History
Consultant World Heritage missions

Research project

Iconographic Expressions of Muslim Mysticism: The Case of the Western Balkans


How does a visual manifestation serve as an effective medium for the stimulation of affective piety in the mystical orders of Islam? This research proposes to examine the visual and representational art, artefacts, material culture of the mystical orders of Islam in the western Balkans, as well as their iconographic and iconological expressions and their relationship to devotional practices within the context of the contemporary conventions of the religious orders in these regions. It will systematically introduce and investigate an extensive collection of visual data collated mainly during field research conducted on the visual expressions of the Sufi orders in 2011 and 2012. The regions involved comprise Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Novi Pazar Sandžak, Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania, as well as the Turco-Tartar regions in the Dobruja, Romania and the Crimea, Ukraine. Comprehensive research will be directed at the cultural and historical context of the visual material, prototypical models and the semiotics of the visual information. The endeavour will thereby involve studies that overflow the boundaries of the visual arts. As such, it will enter the field of history and ethnology and, generally, Islamic studies. An interdisciplinary method of analysis will be pursued, involving not only art historical but literary, epigraphical and textual evidence. This will shed light onto the visualisation of belief and piety of Islamic brotherhoods in early modern and contemporary Southeastern Europe and thus elucidate a significant and hitherto often disregarded group of images and symbols in these ritual spaces; focussing on the ritual/ceremonial aspect of pertaining to things sacred, of being in some way efficacious in the lives of the “mystics” and in Islamic society more generally. In so doing the examination of this body of data will primarily concentrate on the reflection of particularly Sufi symbolic overtones in the visual representations of the religious orders. Deciphering the iconography employed within the ritual setting of Islamic brotherhoods will thereby add new insights into the history of early modern and contemporary visualisation and seeing in these regions.



Sara Susanne Kuehn holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Art and Archaeology from the Free University of Berlin. She is currently consultant for the evaluation of museum collections and curatorial documentation in the context of World Heritage missions.


Her main areas of research are visual piety (devotional artefacts and religious material culture) in Islamic art; ritual and religion; Islamic art objects; pre-Islamic and medieval Islamic religious, cultural, scientific and artistic history; cross-cultural aspects of medieval visual culture with a focus on Islamic, Eastern Christian and Jewish artistic interactions.


Selected publications


'Reverberations of the Life and Work of the Seventeenth-Century Bosnian Shaykh and Poet Hasan Qa'imi', Transcendent Philosophy Journal, London Academy of Iranian Studies, vol. 13, 2012, pp. 149-176.


The Dragon in Medieval East Christian and Islamic Art, Islamic History and Civilization: Studies and Texts 86, Brill, Leiden, Boston, 2011.


'On the Role of the Ophidian and the Quadruped Dragon within the Iconography of the Mythological Scheme of the Oxus Civilisation', On the Track of Uncovering a Civilization. A Volume in Honor of the 80th Anniversary of Victor Sarianidi, Transactions of the Margiana Archaeological Expedition, vol. 3, Aletya, Moscow & St. Petersburg, 2009, pp. 43–67.


'Tilework on Funerary Monuments of the 12th to 14th Century in Konya Urgench (Gurganj)', Arts of Asia,  vol. 38, no. 2, March–April, 2007, pp. 1–18.


'Towards the Dragon and the Mythical Bird: Tracing Possible Antecedents for Some Elements of Khitan Iconography', Arts of Asia, vol. 36, no. 5, September–October, 2006, pp. 67–88.


Central Asian & Islamic Textiles & Works of Art, catalogue of the exhibition held at Theresa McCullough, Ltd., Apr. 26–May 9, London, 2001.


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
discipline Ethnology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
discipline Philosophy