In Formation of a Religious Landscape: Shi‘i Higher Learning in Safavid Iran, Maryam Moazzen offers the first systematic examination of Shi‘i educational institution and practices by exploring the ways in which religious knowledge was produced, authenticated, and transmitted in the second half of Safavid rule (1588-1722).
By analyzing the deeds of endowment of the Madrasa-yi Sulṭānī and other mosque-madrasas built by the Safavid elite, this study sheds light on the organizing mechanisms and structures utilized by such educational foundations. Based on the large number of ijazās and other primary sources including waqfiyyas, biographical dictionaries and autobiographies, this study also reconstructs the Safavid madrasas’ curriculum and describes the pedagogical methods used to transmit religious knowledge as well as issues that faced Shi‘i higher learning in early modern times.
The Safavid dynasty’s period of rule (1501–1722) is one of the most important epochs in Iran’s religio-political history as well as in the history of Shiʿi higher learning. It was during the Safavid period that Twelver Shiʿism gradually transitioned from being a minority sect to constituting Iran’s official religion. This transformation was facilitated by the evolution of Shiʿi educational and scholarly undertakings. Not only did Twelver Shiʿi religious scholars have the opportunity to spread their knowledge on a wider public scale, but during Safavid rule Shiʿi literature also grew remarkably. Thousands of treatises were written both in Arabic and in Persian on legal, philosophical, and theological subjects, and many compendia on various scholarly subjects were produced. This literary corpus helped establish and sustain systems of religious authority that persist in Iran to this day.
The Safavid dynastic era has attracted great interest among scholars, especially in the past four decades during which a large number of studies have been published. This extensive body of literature examines Safavid society, history, culture, and the socio-political roles played by Safavid ʿulamāʾ (religious scholars). Scholars interested in Shiʿi intellectual history in general and Safavid intellectual history in particular tend to concentrate on the socio-political functions of religious scholars and their doctrinal positions. This may be due to the role that the Shiʿi ʿulamāʾ played and continue to play in socio-political events such as the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran that had an enormous impact on the politics of neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Bahrain and Iraq.
Although we have a good understanding of the socio-political and religious functions of the Safavid ʿulamāʾ, we lack a coherent picture of what they taught and how they contributed to the advancement of Shiʿi scholarship. Furthermore, little attention has been paid to the impact of the advent of the Safavids on Shiʿi higher learning. At best, our current state of knowledge provides a general description of Safavid educational undertakings, but this is of little use when it comes to understanding the richness and complexity of everyday life in Safavid madrasas. This study seeks to fill these lacunae by exploring the ways in which religious knowledge was produced, authenticated, and transmitted in the second half of Safavid rule – from the reign of Shāh ʿAbbās I (1588–1629) to the end of Shāh Sulṭān Ḥusayn’s era (1694–1722). It also examines the manner in which Safavid madrasas facilitated intellectual discourse while serving as sites in which socio-religious groups, and political elites’ religious policies came together, allowing the madrasa to function as a powerful locus of Shiʿi culture.
About the Author
Maryam Moazzen, Ph.D. (2011), University of Toronto and Ph.D. University of Tehran (1999), is Assistant Professor in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Louisville. She has published several book chapters and articles in Iranian Studies and Studia Iranica.
Title: Formation of a Religious Landscape: Shi‘i Higher Learning in Safavid Iran
Author(s): Maryam Moazzen
Length: 304 pages
Pub. Date: 20 Nov 2017