Conference Abstracts

Imperial Mysticisms:

Piety and Power in Early Modern Empires

from a Global Perspective


November 27-30, 2019

Central European University



Rula Jurdi Abisaab: Agency and Accommodation: the Lālāʾī Dhahabiyya Sufis of Safavid Iran

The dissolution of Sufi publics and the privatization of Sufi paths of knowledge in Safavid Iran, were shaped by distinct social-political processes and relations of power. In this paper, I focus attention on the Lālāʾī Dhahabiyya Sufi order or more specifically, the Barzishābādī’s lineage of the Dhahabiyya order established by Badr-al-Dīn Aḥmad Lālāʾī (d. 912/1506) in Tabriz. This order appears to have remained Sunni, but moved away from the limelight, and avoided sectarian controversies, which allowed it to survive and protect its tradition. The Lālāʾīs seemed to have navigated the realities of Ottoman-Safavid rivalry effectively, maintained a cordial relationship with the sovereigns, and avoided political alliances, which could ignite the monarchs’ marked fear of militant Sufi orders (like the one they emerged from), be they Sunni or Shiʿi. The case of the Lālāʾīs allows us to redress the scholarship on Sufi orders in Safavid Iran, by giving voice to the Sufis’ agency, and the state’s accommodation of certain forms of Sufi activity that do not threaten their authority or unsettle the normative legal-doctrinal rubric maintained by the jurists. The Lālāʾīs appear to have navigated their way delicately but successfully, utilizing local resources and relations to preserve their tradition. By moving away from the limelight, and detrimental political alliances, they were able to withstand the pressure to convert to Shi`ism, or to that matter leave Iran and relocate in the Ottoman Sunni world.

Rula Jurdi Abisaab is Professor of Islamic History at McGill University, Montréal, with a focus on the nature of Shiʿa doctrinal, legal and juristic developments in late medieval and Safavid Iran and Iraq, as well as Ottoman Syria-Lebanon, and their political and socio-economic contexts. Another area of her research covers postcolonial Marxist Islamic thought, and the interface between the sacred and the secular in Lebanese and Iraqi Islamist movements. A third area of research covers the postcolonial Arabic novel, and compliments her own literary output. She has authored over 23 articles in these areas, and the book, Converting Persia: Religion and Power in the Safavid Empire, 1501-1736. She co-authored another book with Malek Abisaab, The Shiʿites of Lebanon: Modernism, Communism, and Hizbullah’s Islamists. Her forthcoming book, “The Traditionist Movement: God, Legal Heresy, and the Shiʿa State” examines the juristic and theological (kalām) foundations of the akhbāriyya (traditionist) movement in Safavid Iran, and its relationship to the new structure of power and social formations of the sixteenth century. She received several honors and awards including, Early Career Outstanding Achievement. She has two poetry collections and two novels, which received wide acclaim in Lebanon. Her poem “Oral” was shortlisted for the Magpie Poetry Award. Her forthcoming novel, Miʾat Raʿsha (One Hundred Flutters) will appear soon from al-Ādāb, one of the top presses in the Arab World.

Ata Anzali: Irfan as a Category of Power during the Safavid Era

It is a well-known fact that the founder of the Safavid dynasty in Iran was considered by his devotees to be not only the master of a Sufi brotherhood but also the promised messiah and the reincarnation of the past Imams. It is also common knowledge that once in power, the relationship between many Sufi brotherhoods and the Safavid Court grew increasingly hostile. So much so that, in a stunning transformation, tasawwuf had become a stigmatized term among many of the elite in the final decades of the Safavid rule. Drawing on the research I did for my recent monograph, I will try to offer an analysis of this transformation taking my clue from the field of conceptual history. In order to do that, I will focus on the concept of ‘irfan and its emergence as an alternative to tasawwuf during this era. I will argue that the emergence of a new conceptual framework to refer to “mystical” aspects of Shi’i piety is indicative of larger political and cultural shifts in the Safavid domain in which the mystically-minded ‘ulama had an increasing access to political and economic resources at the expense of traditional Sufi institutions and figures.

Ata Anzali is an Associate Professor of Religion at Middlebury College. He received his PhD from the department of Religious Studies at Rice University. Prior to that, he studied at the Qom Seminary focusing on Islamic rational disciplines, including speculative mysticism and philosophy. He also received a master's degree in Islamic Philosophy and Theology from the University of Tehran. Among his most recent works are ‘Mysticism’ in Iran, The Safavid Roots of a Modern Concept and Opposition to Philosophy in Safavid Iran.

Ines Aščerić-Todd: Sufi Orders in Ottoman Bosnia: from Imperial Legitimacy to Voices of Discontent

From its very beginnings, Ottoman history was closely intertwined with Islamic mysticism in its various forms. The lives and careers of charismatic mystical figures and Sufi elders during the formative period of the Ottoman Empire – the 14th and 15th centuries, with the process reaching its high point with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 – intersected with those of Ottoman sultans, and Sufi orders played a crucial role in the establishment of the Ottoman imperial order. Common models of authority, symbolism and terminology were used by Ottoman ruling polity and Sufi orders; sultans and Sufi sheikhs both shared and competed for temporal and spiritual supremacy. Using the north-western Balkan province of Bosnia as an example, this paper will demonstrate how during its formative era, which stretched well into the 2nd half of the 15th and early 16th century, the Ottoman political enterprise enjoyed a propitious relationship with all types of mystical orders, tolerating heterodoxy in the service of empire-building. ‘Institutionalised’ orders, and popular Sufi sheikhs and their followers were equally important in establishing and legitimizing Ottoman power. It was only with the ascent of ‘confessionalization’ in the first half of the 16th century that this relationship changed, and ‘heterodox’ orders became more clearly – and aggressively – isolated from the Ottoman imperial project and, as a result, assumed (or in some cases, resumed) the role of voices of discontent and fighters for social justice.

Ines Aščerić-Todd is Lecturer in Arabic and Middle Eastern Cultures at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests are in social, religious and cultural history of the Middle East and the Ottoman Empire, and include Sufism and dervish orders, interfaith relations in the Ottoman period, Islamic crafts and trade-guilds, and Ottoman urban institutions and architecture. She is author of Dervishes and Islam in Bosnia: Sufi Dimensions to the Formation of Bosnian Muslim Society, published in 2015 in the Brill series ‘The Ottoman Empire and its Heritage’, and recently translated into Turkish (Ketebe, 2018), and co-editor of Travellers in Ottoman Lands: The Botanical Legacy (Archaeopress, Oxford, 2018).

Shahzad Bashir: The Power of Mystical Language

Understanding the significance of religious ideas in early modern Islamic empires requires making sense of literary sources. This is especially so in the case of ‘mystical’ thought, available almost exclusively in poetry or highly poetic prose. To take such mystical expression literally is to violate original authors’ expectations of the presumed reader, leading to misapprehension. I will draw attention to early modern Persian authors’ own guidance on how to approach their language. This focus helps us become better readers of works in which Sufi terminology refers simultaneously to abstract cosmology and everyday exercise of power. I venture that this historical context was host to a specific, self-conscious philosophy of language rooted in poetics rather than a straightforward signifier-signified relationship. The ‘mystical’ element of the period’s political rhetoric is predicated on putting this linguistic ideology to use in chronicles and other literary instruments that project authority.

Shahzad Bashir is Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities in the departments of Religious Studies and History at Brown University.  He specializes in Islamic Studies with interests in the intellectual and social histories of the societies of Iran and Central and South Asia circa 14th century C.E. to the present. His is currently finishing a media-rich digital monograph entitled Islamic Pasts and Futures: Horizons of Time that advocates rethinking the presumed conjunction between Islam and temporality.

Ilker Evrim Binbaş: The Articulation of Political Ideas in a Mystical Milieu: The Bistamiyya and Safaviyya in Syria

The formation of the Safavid Empire is a paradigmatic case of mystical-messianic kingship, in which the king’s persona embodies the ultimate combination of religious and political authority. Our interpretations on the peculiarities of Safavid kingship have been shaped by Safavid self-reflections, in particular by the poetry of Shah Ismaʿil, the founder of the Safavid Empire. Recently scholars have adopted a more critical approach regarding the uniqueness of the Safavid case, arguing that the Safavid state formation story was one, albeit the most successful one, of many similar religio-political movements in the late medieval period.

Despite the recent increase in scholarship on fifteenth century religio-political movements, the pre-imperial Safavid history is still a poorly studied subject. In my paper, I will focus on Shah Ismaʿil’s grandfather Shaykh Junayd’s life in Syria and attempt to locate his activities in the broader intellectual networks of Iran, Anatolia, and Syria-Palestine with a particular focus on the Bistamiyya network. The hagiographical and historical evidence suggests that members of the Bistamiyya had a significant presence in and around Aleppo in Syria, but so far we have no scholarly study on this network. In my paper I will discuss the importance of this network in the region’s intellectual life with a particular emphasis on their connections with the Safavid network of Ardabil in Azerbaijan and the Somuncu Baba network in Anatolia. It is curious that the extensions of the Bistamiyya network in Anatolia and Azerbaijan played prominent roles in the formation and formulation of imperial ideologies both in the Ottoman Empire and the Safavid Empire.

Ilker Evrim Binbaş received his PhD degree from the University of Chicago, and after seven years at Royal Holloway, University of London, he moved to the Institute of Oriental and Asian Studies at the University of Bonn. He studies early modern Islamic history with a particular focus on the Timurid dynasty in the fifteenth century. His first book on the Timurid historian Sharaf al-Din ‘Ali Yazdi (d. 1454) was published by the Cambridge University Press (Intellectual Networks in Timurid Iran: Sharaf al-Dīn 'Alī Yazdī and the Islamicate Republic of Letters). The Intellectual Networks in Timurid Iran won the 2017 British-Kuwait Friendship Society Prize in Middle Eastern Studies and the 2018 Association for Iranian Studies Said Sirjani Book Prize Honorable Mention Award. It was also shortlisted for the 2017 Gladstone Prize by the Royal Historical Society in Britain, and for the 2017-2018 Book of the Year Award in Iranian Studies by the National Library and Archives of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Currently he is working on three different book projects. Together with John E. Woods of the University of Chicago he is preparing a critical edition of Yazdi’s Zayl-i Zafarnama, which is the second and so-far unpublished volume of the Zafarnama. He is also editing, also together with John E. Woods, a handbook on Timurid dynasty titled The Timurid Dynasty: A Handbook. The book was commissioned by Brill in Leiden, and when it is published, it will include contributions from more than thirty scholars working on the early modern Islamic history. Finally, he is preparing a monograph on early modern Islamicate political ideas.

Gábor Buzási: The Neoplatonic Mysticism of Emperor Julian the Apostate

Emperor Julian (331-363), born in the first Christian imperial dynasty, became famous as the last pagan emperor of Rome. His legislation, public action, and above all his own writings testify to his efforts to reduce the influence of Christianity, perceived as a dangerous combination of populism and atheism, in order to restore the cults of the ancient gods. Julian believed that the eternal gods could guarantee perennial prosperity for the Empire as they had done in the past. Although he hoped Christianity would prove transitory, Julian’s religious reform was in many ways a reaction to those of Constantine a few decades earlier. The most direct impetus, however, came from Neoplatonic philosophers, theologians and mystics, above all the Syrian Iamblichus and his disciples, who had integrated a wide variety of religious traditions into a new synthesis. It was Julian’s aim to put these ideas into action. This paper will provide a survey of Julian’s mystical theology as his agenda for his religious reforms, focusing especially on his hymn to the Sun god, composed for the December solstice as a counter festival of the birth of Christ.

Gábor Buzási is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Ancient Studies of Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, where he teaches biblical studies and late antique religions, as well as Hebrew and Greek text seminars. His research focuses on emperor Julian, Philo of Alexandria, the exegesis of ancient texts, and the interactions between the biblical tradition and Platonic thought.

Ute Falasch: Abd al-Rahman Chishti between Pluralism, Inclusivism and Exclusivism

The texts written by the Sufi Abd al-Rahman Chishti (d. 1683) are an illuminative example of the ways in which mystics facilitated Mughal imperial projects by actively engaging with their plural religious environment. Abd al-Rahman produced theological treatises, in which he interpreted Hindu religious concepts with the aim of bringing Hindu and Muslim traditions in line, while at the same time stressing the superior position of Islam. Thus, he seemingly harmonized pluralism, inclusivism and Islamic exclusivism. Furthermore, he wrote colorful and imaginative hagiographies that illustrated the varieties and dynamics of Indian Sufism. The presentation will focus on the Mir’at-i Madari, an account of the 15th century Sufi Badi al-Din Shah Madar and founder of the Madariyya brotherhood. Chishti invents a Jewish background for the founder, and presents the saint as a highly revered mystic and an advocate of the concept of wahdat al-wujud (oneness of being) who is, nevertheless, repeatedly in conflict with petty jurists. The Madariyya had incorporated Hindu rituals in its path and become an extremely popular brotherhood at the grassroots level. Therefore, the presentation will draw attention to the argumentative strategies of the text that used the Madariyya as a projection screen to promote the apparent inclusive principle of Mughal policies as well as to criticize jurists for spreading religious division.

Ute Falasch is Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Religious Studies at Central European University. Her research focuses on the convergence of Sufism and political power in North India in the 15th and 16th centuries. She received her Ph.D. degree from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Her thesis was published under the title Heiligkeit und Mobilität. Die Madāriyya Sufibruderschaft und ihr Gründer Badīʿ al-Dīn Shāh Madār in Indien, 15. - 19. Jahrhundert (2015). She taught South Asian History and Culture at the Institute of Indology and Central Asian Studies at Leipzig University.

Jessica J. Fowler: Policing Imperial Mystics: The Threat of “Silly Little Women” to Global Empire

The Spanish Empire spanned two oceans and touched three continents but despite its immense size and power, authorities believed that the mystical spirituality of numerous mujercillas, or “silly little women,” threatened its integrity. The supposed visions, raptures, and prophecies of these women, who were generally poor, unlettered, and wholly unconnected to each other, were considered sufficiently dangerous to both religious and political stability that the Spanish Inquisition was tasked with bringing them under control. Because the Inquisition’s jurisdiction spanned the full reach of the Spanish Empire it was expected to rein in such mujercillas when they appeared in Madrid or Mexico City, Lima or Seville. Using case studies from Spain and the Americas, this paper will explore how the Inquisition understood and construed the threat posed by such female mystics in its attempts to police spirituality throughout an expansive empire.

Jessica J. Fowler earned her Ph.D. in History at the University of California, Davis. She held the position of postdoctoral researcher at the National Research Council of Spain under the ERC Advanced Grant "CORPI" (Conversion, Overlapping Religiosities, Polemics and Interaction: Iberia and Beyond) whose P. I. was Mercedes Garcia-Arenal. She is currently an International Teaching Fellow in the Humanities Division of IE University in Madrid. Her research focuses on the Spanish Inquisition and its pursuit of the "Sect of Alumbrados" throughout the Spanish Empire, including nearly all of the tribunals in Spain as well as cases from Mexico, Peru, and even the Philippines, over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Gábor Klaniczay: From Birgitta of Sweden to Joan of Arc. The Political Activities of Late Medieval Mystics

Mystics had a privileged, individual access to God. In their religious vocation one of the central principles was to turn their backs entirely to all “worldly matters”, even those of the Church - this was the model represented by Meister Eckhardt, Henry Suso or Richard Rolle, the female mystics of these times – Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, the female prophets of the age of the Great Schism or, finally, Joan of Arc have used their special charismatic authority to interfere in politics. Although the Holy Roman Empire lost its political weight precisely in these centuries, the Papacy – whatever its internal crises, Avignon captivity, schism, conciliarism – can be considered a kind of empire, with the politics of which these female mystics and prophets had an intensive interaction.

Gábor Klaniczay is University Professor at CEU, Budapest. His principal field is the historical anthropology of Christianity (sainthood, miracle beliefs, stigmata, visions, healing, magic, witchcraft). His books include The Uses of Supernatural Power. The Transformations of Popular Religion in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge-Princeton, 1990), Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses. Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe (Cambridge, 2002); Manufacturing the Middle Ages. Entangled History of Medievalism in Nineteenth-Century Europe (ed. with Patrick Geary) (Leiden, 2013); Witchcraft and Demonology in Hungary and Transylvania. (ed. with Éva Pócs) (New York, 2017); Santità, miracoli, osservanze. L’Ungheria nel contesto europeo (Spoleto, 2019).

A. Azfar Moin: Mughal Religious Policy of Sulh-i Kull (Total Peace) and the Biblical Problem of Oaths

This paper examines the Mughal imperial policy of treating all religious equally, called Sulh-i Kull (Total Peace or Peace with All), which was inaugurated by the emperor Akbar (d. 1605). By most accounts, it is believed to have sprung from the currents of mysticism associated with Ibn ‘Arabi and Suhrawardi Maqtul. A related interpretation also credits humanistic Persianate advice literature spawned by Nasir al-Din Tusi for this turn towards religious accommodation. This paper evaluates these perspectives in light of a fundamental problem that Muslim kings faced, especially in India. The source of this problem was the Biblical-Islamic ban on oaths taken on deities other than the god of Abrahamic monotheism. Such a ban created a problem for those monotheist kings who wanted to solemnize treaties (sulh) with non-monotheists.

Azfar Moin is associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of the Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam (Columbia University Press, 2012).

Federico Palomo: Spanish Female Visions in Portuguese Macao: María Magdalena de la Cruz, the Franciscan Missionary Politics in Asia and the Global Circulation of Mystical Piety in the 17th Century Iberian Empires

This presentation aims to explore the circulation of texts, ideas and devotional practices in the early modern Iberian empires, connecting their different parts and contexts, even beyond the political frontiers established between the Spanish and the Portuguese crowns in their colonial territories. To this end, our analysis will focus on the life trajectory of a Castilian nun, María Magdalena de la Cruz, who, in the 1620s, was sent firstly to Manila and, then, to Macao in order to take part in the foundation of a Clarisses monastery in the Portuguese trading post in Southern China (where no female monastery had been established before). Known for her apostolic aims and her visions and mystical dialogues with God, that she registered in a three volumes treaty, María Magdalena de la Cruz’s presence in Portuguese Asia, as well as her likely influential role among the Portuguese colonial groups in Macao and the later attempts to disseminate her spiritual writings and exemplary life as a nun, should be understood in a larger framework, related to the missionary strategies developed by the Spanish Franciscans in East Asia during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Federico Palomo is Associate Professor in Early Modern History at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He studies the religious culture in the Early Modern Iberian worlds, both in the Iberian Peninsula and the colonial contexts. In particular, his research focuses on the intellectual and written culture of Jesuits and Franciscans (practices, knowledge, circulations) in the Portuguese world during the 16th-18th centuries, aiming to understand the role played by the missionaries’ textual and visual output to the making of the Portuguese empire. He is editor of the book La memoria del mundo: clero, erudición y cultura escrita en el mundo ibérico (siglos XVI-XVIII) (Madrid, 2014), and coordinator of the special issue Written Empires: Franciscans, texts, and the making of the Early Modern Iberian Empires, published in the journal Culture & History, 5/2 (2016). Together with Ângela B. Xavier and Roberta Stumpf, he has recently published the book Monarquias ibéricas em perspectiva comparada (Lisbon, 2018). 

István Perczel: Pseudo-Dionysian and Patristic mysticism in the service of the Jesuit missions in India (16th-17th century)

One of the yields of the recent digital preservation and the concomitant study of the Kerala Christian manuscript libraries is the discovery of Syriac texts written by European missionaries. Within this discovery, one of the most surprising elements is the strong Patristic influence on these text, while one would have expected a more legalistic, canon- and dogma-centred attitude on the part of the missionaries. Yet, not only the Patristic leaning of the missionaries is obvious but there is a neat preference for Pseudo-Dionysius and his European spiritual legacy. Thus, even a hitherto unknown Syriac translation of the Mystical Theology was found in two Indian manuscripts, the Syriac text being based on the Latin translation of Ambrogio Traversari (1386-1439), together with translations of the scriptural commentaries of Dionysius the Carthusian (1402-1471). Even legalistic texts, such as those of the decisions of the Third Council of Goa (1586) and the treatise On the Seven Sacraments of Pedro Gomez S.J. (1533-1600) acquire Patristic and mystical overtones in their Syriac translations made in India. Behind this tendency, one may touch a grand concept by the first Latin bishop of the Indian Syrian Christians, the Catalan Francisco Roz (in India from 1578, bishop of Angamaly and, then, archbishop of Cranganore between 1601 and 1624). Apparently, Roz, himself deeply influenced by Dionysian mysticism, wanted to replace the Christian spirituality, deemed Nestorian, of the local Christians, with what he considered the best legacy of European spirituality, and thus to build a lasting Catholic Church on Indian soil. His attempt was deeply appreciated by the local Christians but the endeavour degenerated in the hands of Roz's much less talented successors. 

István Perczel is Professor of Byzantine and Eastern Christian studies in the Department of Medieval Studies at Central European University, Budapest, Hungary. He has extensively worked on Late Antique and Patristic philosophy. In the year 2000, he initiated the digitization and cataloguing of the manuscript collections of the Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala. The project has resulted in the collection of digital images about over 1,200 paper manuscripts written in Syriac and Garshuni Malayalam and 60,000 palm-leaf manuscripts as well as the documentation of architectural monuments, artworks, and inscriptions. Perczel’s publications on Indian subjects include The Nomocanon of Metropolitan Abdisho of Nisibis: A Facsimile Edition of MS 64 from the Collection of the Church of the East in Thrissur (2009); a co-edited volume, Christianity in Asia: Sacred Art and Visual Splendour (2016); and a series of studies on Indian Christianity and the Indian manuscript collections, including ‘Classical Syriac as a Modern lingua franca in South India between 1600 and 2006’ (2009); ‘Garshuni Malayalam: A Witness to an Early Stage of Indian Christian Literature’(2014); “Accommodationist Strategies on the Malabar Coast: Competition or Complementarity?” (2018); “Syriac Christianity in India” (2019). The material digitized in India is being published online by Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (100 MSS from the Thrissur Chaldean Syrian collection published until now) and the catalogues are forthcoming.

Orit Ramon: Maharal of Prague: Mystical Construction of a Jewish Confession in a Multi-confessional Empire

Rabbi Yehuda ben Bezalel, who is known as Maharal, was one of the most outstanding rabbis of the 16th century and the most prominent Jewish scholar in Prague. As a resident of Prague and the Czech crown lands, he was, on the one hand, inspired by the changes that underwent the lands and the city under Maximilian II and Rudolph II, in which churches and other religious institutions played a fundamental role, as well as by the way confessions maintained their religious interests and tried to enforce their cultural identity on their adherents. On the other hand, he was worried about the effects these changes might have on the Jewish community and especially on its unique divine destiny. As part of his plan to ensure the boundaries of the Jewish identity, as well as the Jewish divine mission, he defined it as a confession and adopted the structure of the multi-confessional Habsburg monarchy. Moreover, he translated Cabbalistic concepts into an accessible language and used it to define, not only Jewish uniqueness, but also its superiority and eternal election by God - thus defining the community's role in ensuring stability and order in the monarchy, as well as in the whole world.

Orit Ramon is a member of thedepartment of History, Philosophy, and Judaic Studies at the Open University of Israel. Her PhD, written at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, under the supervision of: Prof. I.J. Yuval, and Prof. A. Bar-Levav, was titled: 'The Order of the World' - On the Image of the Model Society According to Maharal of Prague. This research was published as a book named Maharal in New Light, by the Shazar Center in 2017. Except for the study of Czech Jewish-Christian relations in Early Modern Era, Dr. Ramon is engaged also in the research of 16th century Czech and Czech-Jewish pilgrimage to the Holy-Land, as well as Jewish-Christian relations in Modern Israel. Forthcoming, by Lexington publishing house, is a book titled: 'Jesus was a Jew' - Presenting Christians and Christianity in Israeli State Education.

Matthias Riedl: Apostolic Christianity and the End of Empire: Thomas Müntzer’s Apocalyptic Platonism

In his famous Sermon to the Princes, Thomas Müntzer predicts the downfall of all existing political structures, imperial as well as ecclesiastical, and the emergence of a renewed apostolic Christianity. At first sight, this prophecy refers to a long apocalyptic tradition, reaching back to the anti-imperial visions of the Book of Daniel, which Müntzer’s sermon expounds. However, it has been largely overlooked that Müntzer’s thought is deeply rooted in Neo-Platonism. He frequently refers to the classics of Rhenish mysticism, such as the Theologia Germanica and the works of Meister Eckhart, Henry Suso, and Johannes Tauler. Yet, he also shows interest in life and work of Plato himself and, in a less obvious manner, alludes to key figures of pagan and Christian Neo-Platonism, such as Proclus and Eriugena. Müntzer mystical and apocalyptic understanding of reformation means the purification of every individual from sinfulness through persecution and suffering, the gathering of the elect from all nations and religions, and the removal of obstacles to radical reform, such as rulers, monks, priests, scholastic theologians, and moderate reformers. In his view, the existing religio-political structures of Christianity have caused a cosmic crisis, since they obstruct the return of the human souls into the spiritual world. The solution of the crisis will require the segregation and massacring of the godless; but it will also allow for the divinization (theosis/Vergottung) of the elect.

Matthias Riedl is an associate professor in the Department of History at Central European University, Budapest. He received his PhD in 2003 from University of Erlangen-Nuremberg/Germany, where he also taught before coming to CEU in 2006. As visiting professor, he taught at Duke University, Durham, NC, Jean Moulin University of Lyon 3, and Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. His research focuses on the relation between religion and politics in Western Christianity, from late antiquity to the early modern period. He is the author of a monograph on the 12th century apocalyptic seer Joachim von Fiore (2004), numerous articles on the history of religious and political thought. Most recently, he published the Companion to Joachim of Fiore with Brill/Leiden (2018). His current research is on the emergence of revolutionary thought in the Later Middle Ages and Early Modernity. In this context, he is writing a monograph on the German radical reformer Thomas Müntzer.

Martin Scheutz: Humble Servants of the Habsburgs: The Capucins in Austria in Early Modern Times

The Capuchin friars were regarded as important "agents of Catholic confessionalization" alongside the Jesuits. Although there is little systematic research on the Capuchins, this finding can be confirmed with regard to the German hereditary lands of the Habsburg Monarchy in the early modern period. Already the physical appearance of the Capuchins gave cause for astonishment: the proverbial Capuchin beard, the coarse robe and the wooden shoes. The Capuchins' field of activity was strongly limited to confession and the famous sermon (the "Capuchin Sermon"), the proximity to the Viennese court and thus to the centre of the Holy Roman Empire also created problems for this modest order. Since 1593 (foundation of Innsbruck) and until 1736, 61 monasteries were built in the German hereditary lands of the Habsburg Monarchy, whereby the first half of the 17th century can be regarded as the most important Capuchin era.

Although the Capuchins were mendicant orders, the Order had to make a pact with the elites of the Habsburg Monarchy when the monasteries were founded. This is most evident at the Vienna Capuchin Church on the “Neuer Markt” in Vienna (founded in 1622). This Capuchin church also houses the tomb of the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and later of the Austrian Empire (burials since 1633). While the hearts of the Habsburgs were buried in the Augustinian church, the Capuchin crypt served as the official burial place of the ruling family: the most impressive was certainly the double sarcophagus of Maria Theresa and Franz Stephan of Lorraine.

Martin Scheutz, studied history and German language and literature at the University of Vienna, training at the Institute for Austrian Historical Research, Habilitation for Modern History in 2001; fields of research: History of the city, Viennese court, history of confessionalisation, history of hospitals and poverty, self-testimonies. Publications: Ferdinand Opll/Martin Scheutz (ed.), Kulturelle Funktion von städtischem Raum im Wandel der Zeit/Cultural Functions of Urban Spaces through the Ages (Beiträge zur Geschichte der Städte Mitteleuropas 29, Innsbruck 2019); Katrin Keller/Martin Scheutz (ed.), Der Dreißigjährige Krieg und die Habsburgermonarchie (VIÖG 73, Wien 2020); Martin Scheutz/Alfred Stefan Weiss, Das Spital in der Frühen Neuzeit. Eine Spitallandschaft in Zentraleuropa (MIÖG Ergänzungsband 64, Wien 2020).

Dániel Siptár: Jesuit Confessors and Army Chaplains in Hungary and Transylvania during the Long Turkish War (1593-1606)

The 16th century brought the peoples of the Carpathian Basin the Ottoman conquest and the Protestant reformation at the same time. The territory of the Medieval Kingdom of Hungary became divided among the Habsburg dynasty, the Ottoman Empire and the Principality of Transylvania. Towards the end of the century these three political entities got involved in the Long Turkish War, a grievous conflict with complex motives including both Ottomans and Protestantism. Moreover, the 16th century was also the era when the Society of Jesus first established its presence in these parts of Central Europe. They did not only launch colleges and schools, but also entered the courts of the neighbouring rulers where they enthusiastically promoted the case of Tridentine Catholicism. Therefore, they quickly found themselves in the heart of contention and combat as a political factor; on the one hand, they became a central subject of political debates with Protestant estates, on the other hand, they took an active role in politics as the confessors and advisors of rulers and military commanders, furthermore, as army chaplains in the battlefield. The present paper demonstrates the details of this political role through characters like Alphonso Carillo, Marcellus Pollard and Ferdinand Alber of the Society of Jesus.

Dániel Siptár is a historian working in the Hungarian Jesuit Archives, Budapest as an archivist and librarian since 2016. His main research area is the Comparative History of Religious Orders in the Carpathian Basin in the Early Modern Period. He earned his MA in History and History with Teaching Qualification from Eötvös Loránd University (2005) and his MA in Theology with Teaching Qualification from Pázmány Péter Catholic University (2006). Siptár attended a PhD course in Early Modern History at Eötvös Loránd University (2005–2008) where he passed his postgraduate examination in 2009. During the course he also worked as an instructor for graduate students at the Medieval and Early Modern Hungarian History Department, then between 2011 and 2013 as an external lecturer at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Faculty of Humanities and Social Studies, Modern History Department, Piliscsaba. After being awarded the Fellowship of Habsburg Research Fund (2009–2010), he became a member of the Research Group ‘Religious Orders in 18th-century Hungary’ run by the Central Library and Archives of the Hungarian Province of the Piarist Order, Budapest from 2012 to 2016. Author of more than 20 papers on the topic mentioned above, he speaks English and reads German and Latin.

Alan Strathern: Mysticism and Empire: Towards a Global Comparative Analysis

The purpose of this lecture is to situate mysticism within a broad analytical framework conceptualising religious change and its relationship with power over the global long-term. It therefore adopts a rather distant, comparative perspective on the questions posed by this conference. After reflecting on some of the universal human experiences that may underlie mysticism, I distinguish between two types of religious activity, ‘immanentism’ and ‘transcendentalism’, and the respective forms of sacred kingship they generated. Mysticism mediates between these two forms in a number of ways. If transcendentalism derives its’ authority from a containment of both revelation and supernatural power, mysticism derives much of its historical power from its capacity to unblock these forces and to make them immanent once more. One consequence of this in the Islamic world was the emergence of forms of more divinized forms of sacred kingship. Mysticism was deeply implicated in the dynamics of Islamic expansion – of the faith and of its imperial vehicles.  This was in part because of the geopolitical situation of Islam, its constant need to absorb pagan Central Asian conquest elites – above all, the Mongols who ushered in a new era of Islamic history.  However, the immanentist qualities of mysticism also rendered it vulnerable to reformist counter-actions. The capacity of mystics to generate explosive new forms of social power proved to be both attraction and threat for political elites attempting to carve out and stabilize their authority. Yet how far it is possible generalise about periodization and extend these patterns outside the case of Islam – to Christianity, and to Indic and East Asian religious cultures?

Alan Strathern is Associate Professor of History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Brasenose College. Much of his work has concerned Sri Lankan history, including a monograph and an edited collection, but he now works on the global history of religious encounter and change. His most recent work, Unearthly Powers: Religious and Political Change in World History (Cambridge, 2019), has a broad theoretical remit, while a forthcoming companion volume, Converting kings: Kongo, Japan, Thailand and Hawaii Compared 1450-1850, will use focussed case studies to explain why ruling elites turned to monotheism in some parts of the world and rejected it in others.

György Endre Szőnyi: The Magical-mystery World of Rudolf II's Empire

In view of the religious differences and denominations, clashing world pictures, emerging sciences and revived esotericism, growing tolerance and unprecedented cruelty, witch-craze, and inquisitional burnings, early modern Europe was a period of contradictions, great tensions, and much anxiety. The medieval universal regimes – the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire – gave way to emerging national states, absolute monarchies, and the new rulers were swinging between Machiavellistic real politics and humanistic dream worlds.

One of the most curious and contradictory monarchs was the Habsburg emperor, Rudolf II. He was not very successful in his politics: could not contain the advances of the Ottoman Empire but at his Prague court created a glistering magical-mystery fairyland. Son of the tolerant, crypto-Lutheran Maximilian II, but brought up at the austere Catholic court of Philip II's Escorial, his personality was twisted between bigotry and religious indifference, intellectual curiosity, humanist melancholy, and homosexual fantasies. Prague, between the seventies and nineties of the sixteenth century mirrored these various leanings in a fascinating variety.

The Royal Wunderkammer was one of the most spectacular collections in contemporary Europe and emblematized both the might and power as well as the open minded interests of the Emperor. He collected high quality and somewhat deviate artworks, such as by Hieronimus Bosch, Pieter Breughel, or contemporary Mannerists, Giuseppe Arcimbldo, Bartholomeus Spranger, Aegidius Sadeler.

The court and the city also swarmed with scientists of various sort: serious astronomers, like Tycho Brahe and Kepler, elegant esotericists, such as Michael Maier, even practicing alchemists, among others Michael Sendivogius and Edward Kelly, were seeking their fortune or received employment around Rudolf. After briefly reviewing the aspects mentioned above, in the last part of my talk I revisit the Prague debut of John Dee, Queen Elizabeth's mathematician and magus who was looking for new royal patronage in Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary between 1583 and 1589. His audience with Rudolf II was a fascinating episode in the history of early modern imperial mysticism.

György E. Szőnyi is the director of the Doctoral School of Literature and professor of English (University of Szeged) and cultural/intellectual history (CEU, Budapest). His interests include cultural theory, the Renaissance, the Western Esoteric traditions, and conventions of symbolization – early modern and (post)modern. His important monographs are: Pictura & Scriptura. 20th-Century Theories of Cultural Representations (in Hungarian, Szeged: JATEPress, 2004); Gli angeli di John Dee (Roma: Tre Editori, 2004); John Dee's Occultism (Albany: SUNY Press, 2004, 2010). In the making: The Multimedielity of Culture and the Emblemaic Way of Seeing; The Enoch Readers. A Cultural History of Angels, Magic, and Ascension on High.

Derin Terzioğlu: Reconfigurations of Sufism and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire, ca. 1580-ca. 1730: The End of Imperial Mysticism?

This paper investigates the changing understandings of Islamic rulership and Sufism in the Ottoman Empire from the reign of Murad III (1574-1595) until the end of the reign of Ahmed III (1703-1730). This was a period, in which the Ottoman state institutions and state-society relations underwent significant changes, resulting ultimately in a new imperial arrangement in which power became dispersed between a greater number of players than before. In this altered social and political landscape, Islamic law became an even more important arbiter of legitimacy than it had previously been, reshaping the Ottoman discourses on rulership as well as the boundaries of acceptable forms of Sufism. But, did these changes also spell the end of imperial mysticism?

This paper will try to answer this question by examining the changing relations between the Ottoman rulers (and ruling elites), and Sufi sheikhs (and their constituencies), and the differing perspectives taken by prominent Sufis on the Ottoman imperial state and their relations to it. Time permitting, this paper will touch upon the relevant writings of the following Sufis: İbrahim el-Kırımi (d. 1593), Müniri-i Belgradi (d. ca. 1620), Eskici Hasan Dede (d. 1638/9), Sarı Abdullah (d. 1660), Niyazi-i Mısri (d. 1694), and İsmail Hakkı Bursevi (d. 1725).

Derin Terzioğlu is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul.  She holds a Ph.D. in History and Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard University (1999), and specializes in the history of the early modern Ottoman Empire with research interests spanning the social and intellectual history of Sufism, debates on Islamic law and piety, history of political thought, history of books and reading, and history of childhood and family.  Since 2015, Terzioğlu has been involved in the ERC-funded research project “The Fashioning of a Sunni Orthodoxy and the Entangled Histories of Confession Building in the Ottoman Empire, 15th-17th Centuries” (OTTOCONFESSION).  As part of this project, she and Tijana Krstić (P.I.) of Central European University, have co-edited a collective volume titled Historicizing Sunni Islam in the Ottoman Empire, c. 1450-c1750 (to be published by Brill, pending approval), and are in the final stages of co-editing another collective volume, titled Ottoman Communities in the Age of Confessional Polarization, 15th-18th Centuries – Dialogues and Entanglements (to be published by Gorgias Press, pending approval).  Terzioğlu is spending the academic year 2019-20 as a research fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, where she is co-writing, also with Dr. Krstić, a book that synthesizes the findings of the same project.

Carsten Wilke: The Political Cosmology of Early Modern Kabbalah

The reading of mystical cosmologies as metaphors of political order has remained rare in historical research, which has tended to associate mysticism with dissident and individual spirituality. Focusing on a Jewish minority environment, my paper will build on the influential political interpretation by which Gershom Scholem explained the birth of early modern Kabbalah in Ottoman Palestine during the reign of Sultan Selim II (1566-1574). He saw the creation myth of Isaac Luria, which attributes the origin of the world to a catastrophic shattering of the godhead, as a delayed expression of the expulsion trauma experienced by the Spanish Jewish refugees of 1492. Passing beyond Scholem’s exclusive focus on exile and suffering, I will single out Kabbalistic images that can be related to the active political experience of the Ottoman Jewish community, which was then at the height of its economic expansion and its participation in imperial government. The Lurianic myth of the “ten kings of Edom” and the mediator figure of Metatron at the heavenly court will be explored as examples of how the situation of Sephardic Jews between two warring imperial powers shaped their mystical imaginations of a cosmos where dynamic creative forces are liberated by an absence of the divine and a destructive flow of historical time.

Carsten Wilke is Professor at the Departments of History and Medieval Studies of Central European University, Budapest, as well as director of the CEU Center for Religious Studies. He has published on the religious history of European Jewry and on Jewish-Christian relations during the early modern period and the nineteenth century.

Tobias Winnerling: The Devil, the Enemy, the Demon, Lucifer: 16th Century Jesuits Coming to Terms with Evil in the overseas Missions

When Francisco Javier SJ (1506–1552) in 1549 wrote his ‘carta grande’ as the first Jesuit account of Japan, he recalled various occasions of encountering the power of evil. Already in his crossing he saw himself “in the fates of the demons and the power of their slaves and servants”.[1] Other Jesuit missionaries such as José de Acosta (1540–1600) in Peru and Manoel de Nobréga SJ (1517–1570) in Brazil wrote about similar experiences. As I want to show they used specific terms to describe the evil presences they encountered in all these cases. These terms were chosen following an inner logic, a logic conducive to the project of spiritual imperialism, and communicated via the Jesuit network.

Tobias Winnerling is Research Assistant to the Chair for Early Modern History at Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf. His research focuses on History, Cultural History and History of Knowledge and Learning. From 10/2018 to 09/2019 he ran his postdoctoral project "The Fading of Remembrance. Charting the process of getting forgotten within the humanities, 18th – 20th centuries: a historical network research analysis" under EU funding by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship grant at the Huygens ING, Amsterdam. His other long-standing research interest is centered on 'Digital Games and History.' His Ph.D. thesis, “Vernunft und Imperium. Die Societas Jesu in Indien und Japan, 1542–1574” (Reason and Empire. The Societas Jesu in India and Japan, 1542 – 1574), Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2014, won the 2014 drupa prize.

Hüseyin Yilmaz: Imperial Sufism: The Ottomans, Bektashis, and Mevlevis in Empire-Building

In the post-Abbasid world, it is not uncommon to see Sufi groups and dynasties clash or ally for power, legitimacy, and order. Arguably, the Bektashis and the Mevlevis are unique in the history of Sufism in terms of their relationship to the political order. The Bektashis from the very beginning, and the Mevlevis from the early fifteenth century onwards acted as patron saints of the Ottoman enterprise to the extent that they considered themselves as partners in imperial order. These two orders never expanded beyond Ottoman territories. But they closely followed Ottoman expansion into the Balkans as well as the Arabic-speaking provinces by setting up lodges in all major Ottoman cities from Sarajevo to Cairo. As the empire contracted, these orders followed. No other Sufi order identified itself with the Ottoman establishment at the level of Bektashis and Mevlevis to the extent that they could even be considered as imperial institutions. Although this proximity made these orders more powerful and privileged, it also rendered them less autonomous. My paper will examine how this integration historically unfolded and the political ideologies behind it.

Hüseyin Yılmaz is currently an associate professor in Department of History and Art History, and director of Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University. He received his PhD in 2005 from Harvard University in History and Middle Eastern Studies. From 2005 to 2009 he taught at the Humanities Program and Department of History, Stanford University. From 2009 to 2012 he taught in Department of History, University of South Florida. As research fellow, he spent Spring 2010 at Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften, Vienna. His research interests include political thought, geographic imageries, social movements, and cultural history of the Ottoman Empire and the broader Islamicate world of the early modern era. He is the author of Caliphate Redefined: The Mystical Turn in Ottoman Political Thought (Princeton University Press, 2018).  His recent publications include “The Eastern Question and the Ottoman Empire: The Genesis of the Near and Middle East in the Nineteenth Century” and “From Serbestiyet to Hürriyet: Ottoman Statesmen and the Question of Freedom During the Late Enlightenment.”

Dewei Zhang: Listening to the Unheard:  Wanli Court Politics and the Involvement of Buddhism and Daoism

In Ming China (1368-1644), the inner court elites were tolerated to engage in institutionalized Buddhism and Daoism but with strict conditions: among others they were prohibited from involving in religious activities in organized ways and from maintaining regular ties with the outside world. Behind these religious policies was unmistakably political and ideological concerns, and how they were enforced in the inner court, a place within the emperor’ direct reach, thus enables us to observe the actual interplay between politics and religions. The actual situation, however, was little known largely due to the behind-the-scenes nature characteristic of the inner court. Only in recent years have things changed as some epigraphical and textual materials emerge to tell, for the first time, stories that have been suppressed for centuries. Based on those materials, with a focus on the Wanli era (1573-1620), this paper reveals that not only the ban on organized religious activities in the inner court virtually became dead letters, but people there were growingly connected with the outside world through multilayered, and ever-expanding networks. In explaining such questions as how these breakthroughs became possible and how they affected the contemporary political and religious world respectively, it argues that religious beliefs among the inner court elites, including the emperor himself, were as much a religious as a political choice that was essentially determined by court strife and that, conversely, the deep involvement of Buddhism and Daoism in politics greatly shaped the religious landscape of the time, positively and negatively.

Dewei Zhang is Associate Professor at Jinan University. He won his first Ph.D. degree in Chinese Philosophy from Peking University and the second in East Asian Buddhism from the University of British Columbia. He has two major projects in progress, both focusing the intersections between socioeconomic and political history and Chinese religions. His first book, titled Thriving in Crisis: Buddhism and Socio-political Disruption in China, 1522-1620, will be published by Columbia University Press next year. His second book manuscript, which examines the making, spread, transformation, and acceptance of the printed Chinese Buddhist canon in East Asia, is also ready for publication review.


[1]  Juan Ruiz-de-Medina SJ (ed.): Monumenta Historica Japoniae, vol. 2. Documentos del Japon 1547–1557 (Monumenta Missionum Societatis Iesu vol. 52 ), Rome : Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu 1990, doc. 27 : Francisco de Xavier a los jesuitas de Goa, Kagoshima, 5 de Noviembre de 1549, pp. 134–170 ; p. 138 : „en suertes de demonios y en poder de sus siervos y ministros“. All the translations made in this chapter are mine, as are all their shortcomings.