Looking for the Human: Sufism, Subjectivity, and Modernity in Iran
Ames, Robert Landau
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CitationAmes, Robert Landau. 2018. Looking for the Human: Sufism, Subjectivity, and Modernity in Iran. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractMy dissertation proceeds from two related insights. The first of these is that Sufism in early modern Iran possessed a coherent theory of knowledge that reflected the period’s culture more broadly. The second is that this episteme not only survived modernization, but actually proliferated and took on new literary forms throughout the Qajar period (1785-1925). Sufism achieved this influence in the modern era despite the fact that the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are usually figured as ruptures with the early modern intellectual life of the Timurid (1370-1501) and Safavid periods (1501-1722), when its role in intellectual life was more visible, if also controversial. Secondary sources usually frame modern Iranian reformism as quite unfriendly to mysticism, given the equation of the modern to the rational and the assumed opposition between mystical and the rational. However, my research into both reformism and mysticism demonstrates both that mystical rhetoric appeared regularly in supposedly anti- mystical modernist writing and that nineteenth- and twentieth-century Sufis actually addressed questions of intellectual and political reform in their writing, despite the common assertion that they were irrationally traditional and politically quietist.
My research opens by situating the early modern Sufism of Husayn Vā‘iz Kāshifī (ca. 1436/7-1504-5) and Mu’azzin Khurāsānī (d. 1668). Unlike the usual approach to the study of Sufism, I compare Kāshifī and Khurāsānī’s prose works on Sufism to contemporaneous works on literary theory and ethics rather than to earlier “classical” works on Sufism in order to illustrate that a common conception of knowledge was at work across these disciplines. It then proceeds to a comparison of the works of nineteenth-century reformists like Fath ‘AlīAkhundzādah and Mīrzā Malkum Khān to mystics from the same period including Mullā Hādi Sabzavārī and Mīrzā Hasan Safī ‘Alī Shāh. This portion of my project culminates in a comparison of the poetry of Alī Khān Zahīr al-Dawlah, who was both a Sufi and a reformist courtier who participated in Iran’s constitutional revolution (1906-11), and the prose ethics of Mīrzā Hasan Amin al-Sharī‘ah, who was both a cleric and a constitutionalist.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41129134
- FAS Theses and Dissertations 
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