New Perspectives on Safavid Iran

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


Sholeh Quinn


Elise Richter Hall
Thu, 2016-08-04 10:30 - 12:00


by Mahroo Moosavi / University of Sydney

Developed in the 17th century, “Transcendent Theosophy” as defined by the thinker Mulla Sadra, illustrated a major transition from essentialism to existentialism in Islamic thought. According to Sadra, “something has to exist first and then have an essence”. Cast in opposition to the idea that "essence precedes existence," previously introduced by Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi and Avicenna, Sadra’s achievement was to reconcile opposing conditions including reason and intuition within a largely late-Neoplatonic paradigm. Such complementary natures are also found within the architecture of the same period. How buildings in Isfahan, Persia such as Shaykh Lutfullah Mosque (1613-1619), were predisposed, if not determined, by an intimate knowledge and practice of Transcendent Philosophy is central to this investigation.
If one considers Safavid-era Isfahan as both an arbiter and physical symbol within “Transcendent Theosophy,” then it may be argued that complementary natures found within architecture engendered the capacity for contemplating philosophic ideals. As Mulla Sadra demonstrates, the physicality of a substance is the same as its existence. Due to the uniqueness of existence, architecture and urbanism, which take place through the appearance of a building or a city, should be an expression and representative of that unique existence. While Safavid architects tried to embody Heaven on earth, this paper illustrates how individual buildings in Isfahan extended instrumental approaches to the substantiation of existence. Constructed “frozen” forms of existence are ultimately translated as tools of a mediated architectonics across Safavid theosophy.

Linking Transcendent Theosophy to the architecture of the Safavid era (16th-18th centuries), associative meanings including the deployment of metaphor, allegory and paradox were intensified in both philosophy and architecture. As a result, these associative meanings allied architectonic approaches to philosophical principles embedded in the form of buildings.

by Walter Posch / National Defense Academy

Parikhan Khanom I, daughter of Shah Esmail never became so famous like her namesake and niece Parikhan Khanom bint Shah Tahmasb. Yet it was this daughter of Shah Esmail who played a crucial role in Safavid family policies towards the Caucasus. She was the widow of the last Shirvanshah Khalilullah and mother of one of the last contenders to the Shirvanshahis throne Burhan Ali Sultan. After Khalilullah's death she supported her brother Shah Tahmasb''s claim on Shrivan, was later on married to another Caucasian prince from Shaki and finally married Abdullah Khan UStajlu a powerful prince and in-law of the Safavis, whom she helped to expel a combined Ottoman Crimean Tatar military attack on Baku in the 1550. Her political life as a Safavi princess can at best be interpreted as that of an ambitious women who saw herself as the queen of Shirvan.

by Ferenc Csirkes / University of Chicago

The paper offers an attempt at a literary-sociological conceptualization of the level of prestige Turkic literacy and literature held in Safavid Iran in the 16th through the early 18th century against the background of early modern vernacularization, imperial state formation and confessionalization in the Middle East. It offers a case study through analyzing some of the literary works of Sadiqi Beg (1533?-1610), who, better known as a leading painter of his time, is one of the most important Turkophone litterateurs of the late 16th through the early 17th century, equally well versed and prolific in both Turkic and Persian. I endeavor to shed light on how Sadiqi and other members of the Safavid elite with a Turkophone Qizilbash background sought to refashion themselves as members of the imperial elite and its Persophone culture and how this may or may not have influenced their attitude to language use.
The language of the largely nomadic population of Iran and of the tribal aristocracy, Turkic was unable to compete with the high culture and bureaucratic use of Persian. And yet, it was a continuous literary tradition perpetuated up to our own age by the large Turkophone segment of Iran, albeit its practitioners often had an attitude of a veritable vernacular anxiety regarding their writings; they had to put up with an unstable, little developed orthographic tradition, a range of genres that was limited vis-à-vis Persian, and a much smaller literate audience, which seems to contribute to the largely oral nature of Turkic poetry in the age. While historiography has hitherto been largely characterized by either neglect or nationalist bias, the sociological status of Turkic literature in Safavid Iran has never been treated in a methodologically reflective manner. I offer to start filling this gap and use frameworks known from sociolinguistics, as well as cultural history, including Brian Spock’s textual communities and Sheldon Pollock’s views on vernacularization.

by Mohsen Bahram Nezhad / Imam Khomeini International University

Different types of documents as raw materials have influential and important role in describing and expanding historical events. Basically historical research with mere approach of chronicling historical events would bring, for readers and critics, uncertainty about careful and scientific understanding and recognition of events. In other words, it is likely that the mere concentration on historical texts may lead the researcher toward superficial and unscientific results in the process of describing and explaining an event. Although the framework of author’s claim in this research is of recognition type, it attempts to develop the belief that in addition to written texts, profound attention of researcher to the content of the historical documents in the mentioned process not only is a scientific necessity and inevitable but may lead the interpretation of historical events’ signifier and signified toward right historical and scientific understanding. In this case study, the documents known as Ekhvaniyat, friendly and informal letters, have significant citation value in Safavid studies. These types of written texts that are scattered among the references and literature have considered valuable issues, directly and indirectly, about political, social, and cultural society and economics in Safavid era; since their writers were free of political and bureaucratic dependence and could write without any concern. These issues are hardly found in the formal chronicling of events. The current study, with similar approach and only based on a few manuscripts of analects, represents an analysis of the importance of study of Ekhvaniat in Safavid era and states the mentioned sources' features in cognition missing history of Safavid.