[P3124] Subversion and Synthesis in Later Islamicate Intellectual History

Created by Judith Pfeiffer
Monday, 11/19/12 5:00pm


Islamicate history of the 13th-16th centuries, with its many competing political, intellectual and spiritual movements, poses special challenges for historians. In the absence of transregional empires with widely acknowledged universalistic claims – a feature which distinguishes this period from earlier and later periods of Islamicate history – , it is not possible to invoke overarching political frameworks to make sense of the developments in question. There has long been a need for alternative themes that would enable researchers to organize this history and furnish it with a coherent narrative.

Recent scholarship in the field of religious studies and Islamic history suggests that a framework is emerging that promises a comprehensive understanding of this period. Two themes in particular, the subversion and synthesis of ideas and political claims undertaken by many of the above-mentioned movements, bid fair to bring clarity to the currently muddled state of affairs.

The present panel takes as its point of departure the premise that the Mongol conquest of western Asia, far from destroying the bases of all scholarly creativity, opened up new intellectual possibilities in the eastern Islamicate world. In this context, the categories of subversion and synthesis define these new developments. The intellectual productions of the 13th-16th centuries do not simply preserve and imitate received traditions, as has long been assumed, but rather subvert them, on the one hand, by challenging or undercutting established doctrines or systems of thought, and transform them, on the other hand, by synthesizing multiple intellectual currents into larger wholes. That is to say, the ‘will to synthesis’ that defines so much of later Islamicate intellectual history constitutes a drive to encompass and order all human knowledge while subverting such knowledge to creative, universalist ends.

The individual papers in this panel explore the themes of subversion and synthesis over a range of periods and sociopolitical contexts, from the early 14th century Ilkhanate to early 15th century Timurid Fars, and from the late 15th century Mamluk Sultanate to late 15th century Timurid Transoxania. These contributions seek moreover to initiate a larger discussion about ways to interpret the intellectual, social and political history of the later Islamicate history both in its own right and vis-à-vis later and earlier periods.


This panel is partially sponsored by the ERC (European Research Council).


Hist; Philos; Rel Stds/Theo




Matthew Melvin-Koushki

(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...
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;