The idea of this panel grew out of the shared interest by its members on issues of sectarianism (albeit losely defined) and its configuration in political and religious discourses in the Safavid period. Although some very valuable works have been done in the last decades to advance discourse studies in Safavid Iran, we believe that this topic remains widely underdevelopped in our field, especially when compared to what has been done done in Ottoman and Mughal studies. We believe that more complex theoretical frameworks need to be applied to these discussions, and we intend to contribute to fill in this gap.
The three papers constituting our panel touch upon the issue of sectarian conflict and the use of religious language in Safavid politics. The major themes to be explored in our panel are ritual cursing in Shi'ism (la'n), anti-Sufi polemics, and the political dynamics between the center and the perifery in the Safavid frontiers. Methodologically speaking our papers range from social history to strictly textual analysis, as we believe that these two approaches need not be seen as mutually exclusive but rather as complementary. Such interdisciplinary approach will allow us to tocuh upon other related discussions in our field in need of reexamination. These tangential topics include the formation of clerical authority in Safavid Iran, the relation of the central administration with regional (and often non-Twelver) elites, and the constant redefinition of orthodoxy by the 'ulama' as a political tool.
A fourth paper, added by the Conference Program Team, focuses on the hereditary power and authority of the descendents of the Khurasani Sufi Shaykh Ahmad-i Jam
One of the major debates in the study of Safavid Iran, particularly of its final decades, is the nature of the relationship between the state and the non-Shi’ite minorities, as well as the relationship between the Shi’ite hierocracy and other seemingly heterodox Muslim groups. One important body of literature for the study of this phenomenon is that of anti-Sufi polemics written by the ʿulama’. So far, most studies on anti-Sufi trends in this period have focused on its sociological and political aspects, signaling the growing tensions in the frontier regions and the ʿulama’s changing attitudes vis-à-vis previously favored traditions, such as ʿirfan. These political and sociological explanations are important; however, without a solid analysis of anti-Sufi texts themselves, there is a risk of presenting a rather monolithic picture of anti-Sufi trends. Thus, what I propose is to compare three anti-Sufi texts by Muhammad Tahiri Qummi, ʿAli Quli Jadid al-Islam, and Niʿmatullah al-Jaza’iri to show the variety of ways in which late Safavid scholars articulated their suspicion of Sufi practices. This study aims to compare the rhetorical elements of each polemical text and to contextualize the particular preoccupations of each author. By contrasting the different contexts and the different preoccupations reflected on each text, I hope to present a complex picture of the evolution of the anti-Sufi discourse and of its political motivations.