Dissertation

Successfully defended in December of 2018, Electronic Copy available via Proquest in February 2019.

Title: A Persian Qur’an? The Masnavi-e Ma‛navi as Scripture

Abstract:

This dissertation investigates the category of “scripture” as constructed within the field of religious studies generally and in Islamic studies particularly. I argue that narrow definitions of “scripture” as restricted to solely the Qurʾan within the Islamic tradition do not account for the diverse phenomena of scriptural production within Islamic and Islamicate polities, past and present.  As a consequence, the field has re-instantiated a normative understanding of scripture within Islam, while subsuming other Islamic scriptural writings as of secondary value. Using the example of the Masnavi-e Ma‛navi—a 13th century epic poem from the Persian and Islamic traditions—I demonstrate how scriptural traditions have been formed and utilized by Muslim religious communities.

In my argument, the Masnavi constructs itself as, and comes to be, an Islamic scripture: it has even been referred to as “the Qurʾan in Persian”. The Masnavi-e Ma‛navi’s status as scripture stems from two aspects: its internal discourses about and related to scripture and its reception and usage as scripture. Within the work, it identifies itself as a scripture through internal discourses related to the Qurʾan and other Islamic traditions, such as hadith and Sufi folklore. This internal discourse is supported by claims to authority the Masnavi makes about itself—what I call its “self-authentication” as scripture. In terms of reception and usage, the Masnavi becomes recognized and recognizable as scripture through the interactions between its progenitor, Jalal al-din Rumi, and the disciples (the nascent Mevlevi order, sometimes called “whirling dervishes”) who formed the text’s immediate audience.              

I argue that the adoption of the Masnavi within the teachings and rituals of the Mevlevis shows a community in formation around a text— a process that mirrors the formation of the early community of Muslims around and by the Qurʾan. I show how the (re)production of the Masnavi and its ritual use were intertwined within broader the socio-cultural landscapes of Anatolia and the Mediterranean. The Masnavi thus laid claim to Islamic scriptural authority within the intellectual, political, and spiritual environs of its epoch. As a consequence, scholarship on Islam, Sufism, and religious studies must revisit the definition of “scripture” within these fields.


M.A. Thesis

Description: Completed to fulfill the M.A. requirement at the University of Chicago in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 2009. 

Title: Unique Royalty: The Metaphor and Meaning of Kingship in 'Attar's Ilahi-Nameh

Abstract:

This paper’s subject is the Persian poet Farid ad-Din ‘Attar, who lived in the 12th century (CE) in Nishapur, a city located in northern Iran.  Specifically, I investigate the theme of kingship within one of his six major books, the llahi-Name, or Book of God. There is perhaps no better person for negotiating the meaning and metaphor of kingship within the medieval Persian literary tradition than ‘Attar, who, to quote one scholar, has a “seemingly boundless store of narrative” which “draws on history, legend, folk lore, everyday life, and the religious tradition [of Islam].”[1] ‘Attar was a translator between languages (Arabic and Persian), and was an important interlocutor amongst various traditions—religious, philosophical, historical, etc. He subsumes these traditions in the Ilahi-Name under a frame story constructed around a king and his six sons. This allows for diverse perspectives on and interpretations of these traditions. Yet the book also comments on the place of the poet, the reader, and the status of the world(s) in which they exist.

[1] Quoted from the translator’s introduction to: Farid ad-Din ‘Attar’s Memorial of God’s Friends: Lives and Sayings of Sufis, trans. Paul Losensky. New York: Paulist Press, (2009), 10


NEH Project

Description: Completed as part of the NEH Summer Institute in Barcelona, Spain on "Negotiations of Identity in the Medieval Mediterranean", Summer 2015.

Title: Mediterranean-izing the Masnavi, 'Mevlevi-tating' the Mediterranean

Abstract: 

During the summer of 2015, I participated in the NEH workshop in Barcelona, Spain entitled “Negotiating Identities: Expression and Representation in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim Mediterranean.” My main goal in participating in the seminar was to advance my research and writing for my current dissertation project, which examines the medieval epic of Jalaluddin Rumi titled Masnavi-e Ma’navi. This work, which emerged in the latter half of the 13th century, stretches 6 volumes in length, with over 25000 lines of rhyming verse. Written in Persian, the predominant political and cultural language in Anatolia at the time, the Masnavi interweaves stories from the Qur’an, from Arabic, Persian, Hindu folklore, as well as Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian mythology. Its pages reflect the very diversity of identities and histories that were mingling and cross-pollinating at the time of its composition. My goal during the research institute was to put this text and its author (and its local context) into conversation with  other aspects of the medieval Mediterranean. I sought to reflect on how the Masnavi might connect to other cultural artifacts of that epoch. I also sought to incorporate the approaches scholars have used in analyzing those artifacts into my own writing. Ultimately, I hoped to contribute to the ongoing discussions of the medieval Mediterranean by bringing both the connectivities and particularities of the Masnavi  to bear on theories and conversations within the field.