Safavid studies have greatly progressed with an emphasis on developments in thought, practice and identity. Court culture, especially under Shah ‘Abbas, was significantly geared towards articulating elite Shii identity through attachment to philosophical and mystical modalities of what it meant to be Shii in the new imperial dispensation. However, such commitments were not free of contestation - and in the developing new dispensation of Safavid Iran identities and ideas were as much contested as they were asserted. Building upon previous work by Said Arjomand, Rasul Jafariyan, Kathryn Babayan and many others including the participants in the panel, the papers will show how over the course of Safavid history, the very conceptualisations of philosophy and mysticism were asserted and contested. The papers begin with the earliest Safavid period and go through to the end. Three papers will cover particular thinkers and periods, while the fourth paper will consider the contestations of both philosophy and mysticism over the whole period.
The opening paper considers how the Shirazi philosopher Mansur Dashtaki (d. 1542) formulated the idea of an Avicennan ‘irfan, or mode of mysticism, that was distinct from the school of Ibn ‘Arabi and similarly distinguishable from the forms of illuminationist Avicennan philosophy common in the pre-Safavid period. He provides further evidence for how the Shirazi thinker pre-figures a number of notions in Mulla Sadra. At the end of the period, the second paper considers the case of the Zahabi Shah Muhammad Darabi (d. 1717) and the shift from the discourse of tasavvuf to ‘irfan that occurred in the late Safavid period, partly due to contestation. This shift remains significant in Iran today. He provides further evidence for why we need to actively engage with the texts to see how these discourses were contested and transformed. The third paper examines how the occult discourse of lettrism came to constitute a mode of Safavid-era philosophy by considering the much neglected thinker Mir Damad (d. 1631). The chair's paper will consider the reasoned arguments against both tasavvuf and hikmat focusing upon the contestation over the nature of existence, the argument about monism (wahdat al-wujud) that underlay the attack on the antinomianism of Sufis in the Safavid period. We envisage the panel as the first step in a series of discussions on new perspectives on intellectual history in the period.