Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

4 - Polymaths of Islam: Scholars, Religious Networks, and Semicolonialism in Eurasia

Saturday, July 7
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Casuarina, Lower Ground Floor

Before the onset of colonialism, much of what we now think of as Central Eurasia and South Asia was integrated through Perso-Islamic high culture. This forgotten world was enacted by the Islamic scholars who moved throughout it, their skillset equally valuable across the vast distance and between disparate polities. Although ‘scholars’ brings to mind stodgy academic in a university setting, these were astonishingly eclectic polymaths: they were poets, clerics, mystics, occultists, jurists, and state officials all at once. Even though these scholars originated from all corners of Eurasia, they took great pains to mythologize the educational center of Bukhara (a city now located in Uzbekistan) as a timeless, peerless bastion of Islam. Paradoxically, that endeavor continued even under colonial subjugation, as Bukhara took on trappings associated with the modern state as a protectorate of the Russian Empire. This project seeks to recover the dynamics of a little understood cultural world and examine how mastery of its constituent components empowered Islamic scholars. It further seeks to understand how and why that world was transformed and then displaced by the modern state.

James Pickett

University of Pittsburgh, United States

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4 - Polymaths of Islam: Scholars, Religious Networks, and Semicolonialism in Eurasia



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