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LUSSI Lecture: Shiʿizing Iran - with Sunni Occult Science

Thursday 12 November 2020

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Meeting ID: 605 445 2266
Passcode: GiM008

It gives us great to pleasure to announce the 2020/21 LUSSI Lecture Series in Shiʿi Studies on the theme Ancient Knowledge in Medieval Islam: Esotericism, Occultism, and Magic.



The ad fontes ethos that drove Safavid imperial culture, scene to a philological-philosophical revolution directly cognate to contemporary European Renaissance developments, involved a textual return to the Imams and the Greek ancients in equal measure. Yet this distinctive and unprecedented form of Imami perennialism was realized by Safavid scholars in conscious emulation of a fifteenth-century Sunni, and specifically Timurid, model. The same model, itself the culmination of Ilkhanid and Mamluk developments, combined occultism, sufism and Alidism as its primary elements, the tripod that served as foundation of the new Safavid Shiʿi—and rival Mughal and Ottoman Sunni—imperial culture through the first half of the seventeenth century. But Safavid occult science has been especially neglected by historians, both with respect to philosophy on the one hand and political and popular culture on the other. This talk introduces this important engine of early modern Sunni-Shiʿi continuity and the specific texts that sustained it.


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 philological focus on the theory and practice of the occult sciences in Timurid-Safavid Iran and the broader Persianate world to the nineteenth century, and a disciplinary focus on history of science, history of philosophy and history of the book. His several forthcoming books include The Occult Science of Empire in Aqquyunlu-Safavid Iran: Two Shirazi Lettrists and Their Manuals of Magic, and he is co-editor of the volumes Islamicate Occultism: New Perspectives (2017) and Islamicate Occult Sciences in Theory and Practice (2020).

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