The Idols of ISIS. From Assyria to the Internet
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In 2015, the Islamic State released a video of men smashing sculptures in Iraq’s Mosul Museum as part of a mission to cleanse the world of idolatry. In The Idols of ISIS: From Assyria to the Internet (Chicago, 2020), Aaron Tugendhaft unpacks three key political facets of that event: idolatry as a political charge, the museum as an institution that produces political meaning, and the internet as a space for both image circulation and algorithmically governed iconoclasm. Drawing connections across the millennia, with discussions ranging from Assyrian palace reliefs to medieval Islamic philosophy to first-person shooter video games, the book investigates the perennial impulse to destroy images and the concomitant practice of producing images that depict that destruction. With relevance well-beyond the actions of the Islamic State, The Idols of ISIS compels readers to reconsider the political power of images from multiple perspectives and ask whether political life is possible without idolatry.
Aaron Tugendhaft teaches humanities at Bard College Berlin. He received his PhD from the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University in 2012 and also holds degrees in Art History and Social Thought from the University of Chicago. Before coming to Bard College Berlin, Aaron was a Harper Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago. He has also held postdoctoral fellowships at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, the W. F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. In 2013, he received the Jonas Greenfield Prize for Younger Semitists from the American Oriental Society. He is the editor, with Josh Ellenbogen, of Idol Anxiety (Stanford 2011) and the author of Baal and the Politics of Poetry (Routledge 2018). His most recent book, The Idols of ISIS: From Assyria to the Internet (University of Chicago Press 2020) explores the political power of images and the significance of their destruction.
Boris Vormann is Professor of Politics and Director of the Politics Concentration at Bard College Berlin. His latest book is The Emergence of Illiberalism: Understanding a Global Phenomenon (Edited by Boris Vormann and Michael D. Weinman, Routledge 2020).