Conference on Confessional Ambiguity in the 13th to 16th Century Nile to Oxus Region

Conference on

Confessional Ambiguity, ʿAlid loyalty, and tashayyuʿ ḥasan

in the 13th to 16th Century Nile to Oxus Region

19-20 September 2014, Pembroke College, Oxford

Convened by Judith Pfeiffer

One of the major themes of the later middle and early modern periods of Islamic history is the gradual ‘Shiʿitization’ of large sections of social, intellectual, and political collectivities in the Nile-to-Oxus region. However, rather than re-telling a narrative that leads up to the establishment of Twelver Shiʿism as a state religion in 16th century Iran, and departing from the assumption of a confessional polarization that is largely, if not exclusively, defined by political faultlines, this conference offers an opportunity to address claims about the uniqueness of the Safavid period, putting it into a much broader historical and geographical context, in which there is space for the discussion of alternative and abortive movements, ‘dead-end’ strands of thought, ‘failed’ intellectual agendas and projects without obvious political ambitions, and for those impasses, ventures and movements that, unlike the Safavid enterprise, did not lead up to the formation of a Sufi order-cum-state with a supporting hagiography, historiography, and institutions, but which were, in their very liminality and ephemerality, an important part of the reorganization of the confessional space during this period.


Keynote Address

The Transformation of Sufism in the Era of Confessional Ambiguity

and its Impact on the Legitimacy of Kingship

Said Arjomand (SUNY)

Friday, 19 September 2014, 17:00

Keynote Poster


Keynote Address Small












Program Friday, 19 September 2014



09:20-09:30  Welcome Remarks

Judith Pfeiffer

09:30-11:00 – Panel 1: Confessional Politics in the Ilkhanate

Chair: Kazuo Morimoto

Mahdi or Manjughosa? The non-Islamic Epistemology of Ghazan Khan’s (r. 694-703/1295-1304) Islamic Spiritual Authority

Michael Hope (Australian National University)

Confessional Ambiguity and the Nature of Sovereignty in the Works of Rashīd al-Dīn (d. 718/1318)

Judith Pfeiffer (University of Oxford)


11:00-11:30 Coffee break and refreshments


11:30-13:00 – Panel 2: Timurid Observers of Confessional Ambiguity

Chair: Devin DeWeese

The Occult Sciences between Sunnism and Shiʿism in Late Timurid Iran

Maria Subtelny (University of Toronto)

Confessional Ambiguity of Ibn ʿInaba’s Ṭālibid Genealogies: Family Pride, Pragmatism, but Little Sectarianism

Kazuo Morimoto (The University of Tokyo)


13:00-14:30 – Lunch break

14:30-16:00 – Panel 3: Spatial Dimensions of Confessional Ambiguity

Chair: Derin Terzioğlu

Imāms, Sayyids, Qalandars, Shahs and Pīrs: The Mapping of Confessional Space in Badakhshan

Jo-Ann Gross (The College of New Jersey Trenton, NJ)

From ‘Confessional Ambiguity’ to the ‘Imperial Shrines’ of Safavid Iran and Mughal India

Azfar Moin (The University of Texas at Austin)


16:00-17:00 Coffee break and refreshments


17:00 – Keynote Address

The Transformation of Sufism in the Era of Confessional Ambiguity and its Impact on the Legitimacy of Kingship

Said Arjomand (SUNY)


18:30 Presentations conclude


Program Saturday, 20 September 2014


09:30-11:00 – Panel 4: The Politics of Confessional Ambiguity

Chair: Florian Schwarz

The First Martyr and the Sarbidarids: A Dry Run for Safavid Shiʿism

Robert Gleave (University of Exeter)

Restituting the Political: Qivām al‑Dīn Yazdī and the Confessional Dimensions of Iskandar b. ʿUmar Shaykh’s Political Program

İlker Evrim Binbaş (Royal Holloway, University of London)


11:0011:30 Coffee break and refreshments


11:3013:00 – Panel 5: Sufi Entanglements

Chair: Shahzad Bashir

The Paradoxes of Confessional Ambiguity in the Confessional Age: Alid Loyalty and Mainstream Sufism in the Ottoman Empire during the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Derin Terzioğlu (Boğaziçi University)

Disciplinary Distinction, Personal Loyalty, and Confessional Experimentation: Patterns in Communal Nomenclature in the Eastern Islamic World, 13th-16th Centuries

Devin DeWeese (Indiana University, Bloomington, IN)


13:0014:30 Lunch break


14:30-16:00 – Panel 6: Philosophy and Theology

Chair: Maria Subtelny

Theological Topologies Revisited: A Case Study of the Confessional Identity of Jalāl al-Dīn Dawānī (d. 1501) and Ṣadr al-Dīn Dashtakī (d. 1498)

Ahab Bdaiwi (University of St Andrews)

In Praise of Determinacy: Disambiguating the Shiʿism of Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1635)

Sajjad Rizvi (University of Exeter)


16:00-16:30 Coffee break and refreshments


16:30-18:30 – Panel 7: Questions and Counterpoints

Chair: Judith Pfeiffer

Ambiguity reloaded. The two guises of an early Safavid historical narrative

Florian Schwarz (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)

Is it Possible to Write Non-sectarian Islamic History?

Shahzad Bashir (Stanford University, CA)

Closing Remarks

18:30 Conference concludes


To download the program brochure, please click here for Day 1 and Day 2.


Attendance is free of charge, but spaces are limited and restricted to those who have pre-registered. To register, please email Matthew Reza at

To ensure that sufficient refreshments can be provided during breaks, please register by Tuesday, 9 September 2014 at the latest. Any registrations after this date are subject to availability.