Marian Miner Cook

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Some Sacred Lives of Coffee

Mon, September 25, 2023
Dinner Program
Jamel Velji

Can coffee be religious? Many of us who drink coffee might describe it in terms that are sacred—awakening, invigorating, even eye-opening. The earliest people to popularize the beverage in the 15th century also described it in terms that are strikingly similar to those that we use today. This talk shows how early proponents of the bean argued that it should be part of the sacred landscapes of Islam. I then show how coffee drinking impacted changes in Middle Eastern architecture and ritual. I then consider how knowledge about coffee changed as the beverage took hold in Europe.

Jamel Velji is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College. His work lies at the intersection between Islamic Studies and Religious Studies and is particularly concerned with the ways in which narratives, rituals, and symbols can effect social transformations. He has written extensively on various aspects of apocalypticism, and his book An Apocalyptic History of the Early Fatimid Empire was the inaugural volume of Edinburgh University Press’s series on Islamic Eschatology and Apocalypticism. His current research examines the Islamic history of coffee, and how that history becomes retold in various European and American contexts.

Velji holds A Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, an M.A. in Islamic Studies from McGill University, and a B.A. in Religion from Haverford College. His work has been funded by numerous fellowships, including a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, two fellowships from the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council of Canada, a Josephine de Kármán Fellowship, and a fellowship from the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

Claremont McKenna College
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