SUMMARY:The strongly neoplatonic tenor of Islamic political philosophy, from Farabi (d. 950) onward, entailed an enduring focus on philosopher-kingship as the ideal form of governance; and philosopher-kings may transcend even Islam itself. To the messianic imperial rulers of the early caliphal era, such a model was of obvious attraction, and Abbasid and Fatimid caliphs strove vigorously to embody it. But their pretensions to absolutist philosopher-kingship were challenged with equal vigorousness by the rising class of ulama, who successfully disallowed such transcendence, becoming the primary political counterweight to caliph and sultan alike.
With the growing divergence between Sunni and Shi‘i political theories, the Helleno-Irano-Semitic ideal of the philosopher-king migrated from the political mainstream of Islam to its Shi‘i-sufi periphery—and there it remained until the epochal Mongol conquest of the mid-13th century, the pivot of Islamic history. The destruction of the reigning, but brittle, caliphal-sultanic-jurisprudential model inaugurated a long era of religiopolitical experimentation and imperial ascendancy, whereby Islamic, Chinggisid and Iranian categories were synthesized with (occult) science, sufism and Alidism to create new platforms for universalist absolutism. The age of the transcendent philosopher-king had returned with a Turko-Mongol vengeance.
This double panel presents an array of new research on the evolution of the theory and practice of philosopher-kingship in the post-Mongol Persian cosmopolis, from the eastern Mediterranean and southeastern Europe to Central Asia and India, and from the mid-13th century to the end of the 19th. Its eight papers examine the eclectic strategies whereby supremely ambitious Muslim sovereigns and world conquerors fashioned themselves, and were fashioned or refashioned by the scholars that served or resisted them, as sacral, even divine, philosopher-kings.
The first panel, comprising four papers, addresses such strategies as influentially pursued in Ilkhanid Iran, where Islamic, Chinggisid and Iranian discourses of sovereignty were first fused, and concurrently in Mamluk Egypt, where a new ideology of millennial kingship was developed in occult-scientific and sufi terms. The Ilkhanid and Mamluk models were in turn combined in the highly distinctive and similarly influential Timurid model of sacral occult-philosopher-kingship, whereby sultans became scientists. In the 16th century, the image developed in Iran in the preceding century of the Muslim world-conqueror Timur as supreme Lord of Conjuction and holy scion of ‘Ali was then subject to Safavid retooling, which added a prophetic valency through conflation with the persona of the Prophet Muhammad.
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair; Discussant;
(University of Michigan)
Kathryn Babayan is Professor of Iranian History and Culture at the Departments of Middle East Studies and History. She is a social and cultural historian of the medieval and early modern Persianate world. She has published, Mystics, Monarchs and Messiahs:...
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;
(University of South Carolina)
Matthew Melvin-Koushki (PhD Yale) is Associate Professor and McCausland Fellow of History at the University of South Carolina. He specializes in early modern Islamicate intellectual and imperial history, with a focus on the theory and practice of the...