Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Awards
University of Chicago
2016 Winner (Humanities)
The Crisis of Rule in Late Medieval Islam: A Study of Idris Bidlisi (861-926/1457-1520) and Kingship at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century
Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
Supervised by Cornell Fleischer
The MESA dissertation awards were established in 1982 to recognize exceptional achievement in the research and writing of dissertations in Middle East studies. In 1984 the award was named for Malcolm H. Kerr to honor his significant contributions to Middle East studies. Awards are given in two categories: social sciences and humanities.
The humanities category received 26 submissions. The winner is Christopher Markiewicz's “The Crisis of Rule in Late Medieval Islam: A Study of Idrīs Bidlīsī (861-926/1457-1520) and Kingship at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century,” completed in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago under the supervision of Professor Cornell Fleischer. Reflecting on a period of major upheaval in the Islamic world including the dissolution of the Mamluk, Aqquyunlu, and Timurid sultanates and the consolidation of Ottoman preeminence across western Asia, Markiewicz focuses on the late medieval crisis of political legitimacy and the Ottoman transition to a new mode of kingship during the first decades of the sixteenth century. Of specific importance in this context are the literary and historiographic writings of the prominent scholar and statesman Idrīs Bidlīsī, who produced a large body of work during his service in the Aqquyunlu, Ottoman, and Mamluk courts over a period of approximately 45 years, including two chronicles of the Ottoman dynasty composed in Persian titled Hasht bihisht (The Eight Paradises) and the Salīmshāhnāma (The Book of Sultan Selīm). Rejecting the common understanding of the Ottoman caliphate as a continuation of the Abbasid caliphate, Markiewicz provides a nuanced account of a transitional period of great complexity in which Muslim rulers and jurists faced a crisis of legitimacy following the fall of the Abbasid caliphate in 656/1258 and the dissolution of the Chinggisid Ilkhanate in the fourteenth century. In his study of Bidlīsī’s published and unpublished works, Markiewicz suggests that Bidlīsī developed a new concept of kingship, khilāfat-i raḥmānī (the vicegerency of God) grounded in Timurid thought about sovereignty as well as in Islamic mystical, astrological, and philosophical discourses on epistemology. Embodied in the Ottoman sultans, this sacral and cosmic concept of kingship was used to legitimize Ottoman rule as divinely willed universal caliphal authority in the newly conquered Eastern lands with non-Turkic Muslim populations.
Markiewicz’s dissertation makes a valuable contribution to Ottoman studies as well as to Islamic studies. It provides an account of an understudied period in late medieval history and addresses a significant gap in Islamic political history and theory. Working across Persian, Arabic, and Ottoman Turkish, it makes skillful use of manuscript and other archival sources along with published histories. Its most admirable strength, however, is its presentation of new historical discoveries within a rich and sophisticated analytical framework.
Members of the 2016 award committee were Nergis Ertürk, Pennsylvania State University (committee chair); Michael Gasper, Occidental College; Intisar Rabb, Harvard University; and Walid Saleh, University of Toronto.