In the Path of the Prophet: Medieval and Early Modern Narratives of the Life of Zarathustra in Islamic Iran and Western India

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In the Path of the Prophet: Medieval and Early Modern Narratives of the Life of Zarathustra in Islamic Iran and Western India

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Title: In the Path of the Prophet: Medieval and Early Modern Narratives of the Life of Zarathustra in Islamic Iran and Western India
Author: Sheffield, Daniel
Citation: Sheffield, Daniel. 2012. In the Path of the Prophet: Medieval and Early Modern Narratives of the Life of Zarathustra in Islamic Iran and Western India. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: In the Path of the Prophet: Medieval and Early Modern Narratives of the Life of Zarathustra in Islamic Iran and Western India is a historical study of the discursive practices by which Zoroastrians struggled to define their communal identity through constructions of the central figure of their religion. I argue that Zoroastrians adopted cosmopolitan religious vocabularies from the Islamicate and Sanskritic literary traditions for a world in which they were no longer a dominant political force. Contrary to much scholarship, which characterizes medieval Zoroastrian thought as stagnant, I contend that literary production in this period reveals extraordinary intellectual engagement among Zoroastrians endeavoring to make meaning of their ancient religious traditions in a rapidly changing world. The essays of my dissertation focus on four moments in Zoroastrian intellectual history. I begin with an analysis of the thirteenth century Persian Zarātushtnāma (The Book of Zarathustra), examining interactions between Zoroastrian theology and prophetology and contemporary Islamic thought, focusing on the role that miracles played in medieval Zoroastrian conceptions of prophethood. In my next essay, I explore questions of identity, orthodoxy and heterodoxy by investigating a group of Zoroastrian mystics who migrated from Safavid Persia to Mughal India around the seventeenth century. Influenced by the Illuminationist school of Islamic philosophy, they left behind a body of texts which blur religious boundaries. In my third essay, I examine the earliest literary compositions in the Gujarati language about the life of Zarathustra, employing theoretical discussions of literary cosmopolitanism and vernacularization to trace how Zoroastrian stories were reimagined by Indian Zoroastrians (Parsis) to fit Indo-Persian and Sanskritic discursive conventions. Finally, I look at the ways in which Zoroastrian prophetology was transformed through the experience of colonial modernity, focusing especially on the role of the printing press and the creation of a literate public sphere. I argue that the formation of a Parsi colonial consciousness was an experience of loss and recovery, in which traditional Persianate forms of knowledge were replaced by newly introduced sciences of philology, ethnology, and archaeology, fundamentally reshaping the Parsi conception of their religion and religious boundaries.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10288468
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