Emotional Significance in 17th Century Indo-Iranian Philosophy

How can the history of emotions enable innovative readings of Islamic Philosophy in the early-modern Persianate world? The approach of intellectual history has traditionally focused on questions of influence, origin, and other modalities of the transmission of knowledge at the expense of mapping the affective and emotional landscapes in which Muslim philosophers practiced their craft. Drawing on the work of William Reddy and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, I will offer commentary on how analyses from the history of emotions may be used more directly to scrutinize the scholarship of a Muslim Persian pedigree.

A student of the Isfahan School of Mir Damad and Baha al-Din ‘Amili named Nizam al-Din Ahmad Gilani (d. 1650) active in the retinue of the Mughal general Mahabbat Khan and later under ‘Abdullah Qutbshah of Hyderabad demonstrates the mobile circulation of Iranian philosophy between Mughal and Deccan Indian Muslim courts. Gilani’s emotional experience represented in a variety of his extant manuscript sources reveals the significance of affective awe and wonder informing proper philosophical habitus in a mid-17th Century Indo-Iranian context. This paper will argue that Gilani’s affective experience of the natural world allows us to begin discussing how emotional expressions not only help justify the pursuit of natural philosophy, but also offer insights into the formation of new ethical relationships between investigating Muslim subjects and their objects of study. Thaumazein, or affective wonder that induces philosophical reasoning, serves as the basis from which not only natural philosophical reasoning may take place, but it also establishes a deeply subjective mystical experience of the sonorous phenomenal world. Gilani repeatedly demonstrates the affective intrusion of the world into his psyche through claiming surprise and wonder (isti‘ajāb va istighrāb) at the workings of the atmosphere, human body, as well as plant and animal life. His surprise extends to grammatical riddles, obscure verses of the Qur’ān and the content of his own dreams.

Overlapping with mystical and occult currents between Iran and India that strongly influenced Gilani’s scholarship, his mode of natural philosophy should be understood as inextricable from the emotional regime of his Indo-Iranian milieu. My analysis will offer further commentary about why the expression of certain emotions must be considered not as symbolically powerful tropes but as constitutive components of the very process of Muslim philosophy.