Friday 14 July 2017

City of Mirrors: Songs of Lalan Sai

Post by Keith Cantú

A new compilation is being published this summer of the Bengali poet Fakir Lālan Sāi’s songs that would likely be of interest to students of Islamic esotericism. Examples of relevant material in the songs and their annotations include lengthy discussions of ẓāhir / bāṭin, Nur Muhammad, Arabic alphabet symbolism, Manṣūr Ḥallāj, fanā’, the manzils (sharī‘a, ṭarīqa, ḥaqīqa, and ma‘rifa), the maqāms (nāsut, malakūt, jabarūt, and lāhūt), angels (Azrael, Israfel, Michael, and Gabriel), and much else besides. While much of Lālan’s poetry also contains references to what are typically considered non-Islamic beliefs and practices (e.g. Hindu and Buddhist yoga, tantra, and alchemy), Lālan is famous across Bangladesh and West Bengal, India for harmonizing these with their perceived Islamic equivalents.

The late scholar Carol Salomon devoted over thirty years to researching Lālan’s songs using both philological and ethnographic methods, and the results of her research were compiled and edited by Keith Cantú and Saymon Zakaria. More information can be found on the Oxford University Press (South Asia Research Series) website for the book here:

Monday 10 July 2017

ENSIE blog goes live

The ENSIE members who met during the ESSWE6 conference in Erfurt decided to set up an ENSIE blog, and this is it.

The purpose of the blog is to share information between members of ENSIE, especially about new publications, projects, and conferences. It is hoped that the blog will also be of interest to members of ESSWE who are not members of ENSIE, to the wider academic community, and to other interested persons. To receive daily updates of posts, simply enter your email in the top right-hand corner.

Anyone wishing to post should send their material to Mark Sedgwick, Any member of the ENSIE who wants to make regular posts should contact Mark and ask to be given access to post directly.

A few back posts have been added to get the blog going.

Tuesday 4 July 2017

The Mathematicalization of the Occult Sciences in the High Persianate Tradition

A new article has been published by Matthew Melvin-Koushki, "Powers of One: The Mathematicalization of the Occult Sciences in the High Persianate Tradition," Intellectual History of the Islamicate World 5 (2017), pp. 127-199:
Occultism remains the largest blind spot in the historiography of Islamicate philosophy-science, a casualty of persistent scholarly positivism, even whiggish triumphalism. Such occultophobia notwithstanding, the present article conducts a survey of the Islamicate encyclopedic tradition from the 4th–11th/10th–17th centuries, with emphasis on Persian classifications of the sciences, to demonstrate the ascent to philosophically mainstream status of various occult sciences (ʿulūm ġarība) throughout the post-Mongol Persianate world. Most significantly, in Persian encyclopedias, but not in Arabic, and beginning with Faḫr al-Dīn Rāzī, certain occult sciences (astrology, lettrism and geomancy) were gradually but definitively shifted from the natural to the mathematical sciences as a means of reasserting their scientific legitimacy in the face of four centuries of anti-occultist polemic, from Ibn Sīnā to Ibn Ḫaldūn; they were simultaneously reclassified as the sciences of walāya, moreover, which alone explains the massive increase in patronage of professional occultists at the Safavid, Mughal and Ottoman courts in the runup to the Islamic millennium (1592 CE). I argue that the mathematicalization, neopythagoreanization and sanctification of occultism in Ilkhanid-Timurid-Aqquyunlu Iran is the immediate intellectual and sociopolitical context for both the celebrated mathematization of astronomy by the members of the Samarkand Observatory in the 9th/15th century and the resurgence of neoplatonic-neopythagorean philosophy in Safavid Iran in the 10th/16th and 11th/17th, whereby Ibn Sīnā himself was transformed into a neopythagorean-occultist—processes which have heretofore been studied in atomistic isolation.