Events

2021

All meetings via Zoom, from 12:00 to 1:30 pm.

September 2-3: Near Eastern Studies Workshop, Colophons in Middle Eastern Manuscripts. Conveners: Sabine Schmidtke, School of Historical Studies, IAS and George A. Kiraz IAS School of Historical Studies and Beth Mardutho: The Syriac Institute. Program.

September 16The Author's Voice: Sasanian Iran: A Personal View, Michael R. Jackson Bonner, Canadian writer, political adviser and independent historian of Iran. I will discuss how I came to write The Last Empire of Iran and why. My main motivation was to portray the Sasanian state as the great world power that it was, and to situate it properly between Rome and the nomad powers of Inner Asia. The talk will address the classicising and Perso-Arabic historiographical traditions, but special emphasis will be given to Armenian and Syriac sources also. Discussion will cover some of the key themes of the book, including: the origins of the Sasanian state; the wider context of Eurasian history; interactions between Iran and the world of the steppe; and, finally, historiographical problems and the use of sources. A recording of this event can be seen here.

Hosted by Sabine Schmidtke (School of Historical Studies, IAS) and George A. Kiraz (School of Historical Studies, IAS and Editor-in-Chief, Gorgias Press) in cooperation with Angelos Chaniotis (School of Historical Studies, IAS).

November 5-6: International Symposium, Prince Baysunghur, Before & After: Timurid Manuscripts in Context. This inaugural symposium of the Persian Manuscripts Association and hosted by Near Eastern Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, celebrates the 600th anniversary of the first manuscript produced at the royal library-atelier of the Timurid Prince Baysunghur (1399-1433) in Herat. Baysunghur’s patronage of manuscript production is significant for exhibiting a high artistic refinement in the arts of the book, but the patron was also actively involved in the scholarly aspect of the works to be reproduced. He commanded editions and the preservation of texts in a variety of fields, notably history, ethics and literature.  This symposium brings together scholars and international experts in a number of disciplines to explore the connoisseurship and patronage undertaken by the prince, the aesthetic of his atelier’s output, their antecedents in the Jalayirid period, and the production of literary editions in his library. The full program for this event can be seen here.  

November 10, 12:00 noon, Near Eastern Studies and Digital Scholarship@IAS joint lecture. The Study of Pre-modern Hebrew Philosophical and Scientific Terminology as a new Chapter in the Intellectual History of Europe and the Islamicate World: PESHAT in Context. Speakers: Giuseppe Veltri (University of Hamburg), Reimund Leicht (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Michael Engel (University of Hamburg) and Florian Dunklau (University of Hamburg).

PESHAT in Context (www.peshat.org) is a long-term research project funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and located at the University of Hamburg and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It investigates the formation and development of pre-modern philosophical and scientific terminology in the Hebrew language in its multi-cultural and multi-linguistic context(s). From a historical point of view, Hebrew philosophical and scientific terminology evolved from various attempts to re-formulate the intellectual culture that had developed among Jews in the Arabic-speaking Islamicate world in a new linguistic form and to make it accessible to new audiences. The formation of the “philosophers’ Hebrew” is thus a border-transcending phenomenon with roots in the Arabic-speaking world and reaching out to the intellectual history of medieval Europe. It is one of the major aims of PESHAT in Context to document and analyze the migration of philosophical and scientific concepts and idea through the study of the development of Hebrew terminology within its multilinguistic background. For this purpose, PESHAT in Context has created a multilingual digital thesaurus of philosophical and scientific terms accessible online, which is technologically founded on a newly developed database program. As a project in modern digital humanities, it provides tools and a unique platform to access a wide range of digital resources relevant for the linguistic, terminological and conceptual study of philosophy and science in Europe and the Islamicate world. 

November 12-13: Conference, Ignaz Goldziher and his Correspondents: Islamic and Jewish Studies around the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Conveners: Schmidtke, Sabine; Günther, Sebastian; Dévényi, Kinga; Becker, Hans-Jürgen). 

December 9The Author's VoiceAsh‘arism Encounters Avicennism: Sayf Al-Dīn Al-Āmidī (d. 631/1233) on CreationLaura Hassan, Associate Faculty Member, Faulty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford.  Competing theories about the origins of the cosmos have always entailed distinctive and often antithetical conceptions of who, or what, caused it. Sayf al-Dīn al-Āmidī developed his doctrine of creation at a particularly poignant moment in Islamic intellectual history, in which the traditions of theology (kalām) and Hellenised philosophy (falsafa) were forced into an encounter which would permanently alter the theological landscape. In this talk, taking impetus from the case of al-Āmidī, I consider the options available for intellectuals who, like him, encounter a system of thought which is both rationally and theologically compelling, but which also threatens to undermine entrenched convictions. A recording of this event can be seen here.

Hosted by Sabine Schmidtke (School of Historical Studies, IAS) and George A. Kiraz (School of Historical Studies, IAS and Editor-in-Chief, Gorgias Press) in cooperation with Angelos Chaniotis (School of Historical Studies, IAS).

2022

All meetings via Zoom, from 12:00 to 1:30 pm.

January 12: Near Eastern Studies Seminar, Al-Suddī and his sources for rewriting the Quran, Joseph Witztum (IAS School of Historical Studies and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

January 28: Princeton University Shelby Cullom Davis Center Seminar, The Medieval Islamic World: A View from the Mountains, 10:15 am-12 pm.  More information here.

February 9: Near Eastern Studies Seminar, Unorthodox Patronage: Persian manuscript production in 15th-century Iran, Shiva Mihan (IAS School of Historical Studies).

February 16: Near Eastern Studies Lecture, From Compilation to Indexing: Tracing the Practice of Early Modern Orientalist Scholarship, Paul Babinski (University of Copenhagen). How did orientalists read, learn languages, and produce dictionaries, editions, and other works? Annotated manuscripts in particular offer a glimpse into the orientalist’s study, showing the sources they used, their methods of deciphering texts and comparing manuscripts, and their collaboration with amanuenses. Annotations also afford us a view of development over time, charting practices of early modern orientalist scholarship through shifting patterns of note-taking. This talk will trace that history in the early modern period, giving an overview of the conventions of orientalist annotation and focusing on a comparison between manuscripts from the two premier Western European Arabists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, respectively: Jacob Golius and Johann Jacob Reiske. Both scholars’ libraries remain largely intact, and, viewed broadly, offer a perspective onto questions of scholarly specialization, the character of philological progress, and the changing social contexts of orientalist learning. A recording of this event can be seen here.

February 23: Near Eastern Studies Lecture, An Ottoman Fiscal Codex and Financial Tales of 134 Women and Men, Ali Yaycıoğlu (Stanford University). At the center of this talk is a fiscal codex (defter), housed in the Ottoman Archives in Istanbul (call number MAD 9726), dated from 1808 to the 1840s. MAD 9726 was prepared by a group of Ottoman fiscal accountants to record the financial assets, public and private debts and credits of 134 prominent men (and a few women), who lost their lives (or who fled or were exiled) between 1807 and 1809. Among these individuals were high ranked statemen, bureaucrats, state contractors, financiers, merchants, and provincial notables. Most of them were Muslim, but some were Christian. The majority of them were part of a political movement known as the New Order (Nizam-ı Cedid). The New Order ruled the Ottoman Empire between 1789 and 1808 and fell in 1807-08 after three sequential popular revolts. In some ways, MAD 9726 is a massive confiscation inventory, prepared to seize, reveal, appraise, and redistribute the assets of a politico-financial network spread across the empire. In each entry in the codex, one encounters a dizzyingly complex financial tale centered on one of the 134 individuals, fashioned by tens of debt and credit transactions, financial partnerships, contracts, investments, speculations, capital transfers, bankruptcies, and confiscations. In each entry, one also meets several other individuals, waqfs and state institutions, communities, and sometimes foreign actors, who had financial deals with these individuals. The accounting in some of these entries was completed within a year or two after the death of the individual in question. Some cases, however, it continued for several years and even decades, because of intricacies of transactions, computations, and difficulties in debt collection, and complex political and diplomatic matters. These financial tales were narrated in an arcane accounting technique, known as fenn-i siyaqat, charged with encrypted short hands and paratextual symbols, which Ottoman fiscal scribes had employed for centuries to deal with complex financial matters in their computations. In fact, MAD 9726 is one of the most developed but also final examples of fenn-i siyaqat, which would die out in the mid-19th century, with the introduction of new accounting techniques. This talk will present the intertwined story of a codex, the financial tales of 134 prominent individuals, the final phase of the accounting methods of Ottoman fiscal bureaucracy, and the political-economic transformation of the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  

March 9: Near Eastern Studies Seminar, The Auspicious Rise of the Seka: Revisiting the Islamic Conquest of Bengal, Ayesha A. Irani (IAS School of Historical Studies and University of Massachusetts-Boston).

March 10: The Author's Voice, Angels Hastening: The Karbalāʾ Dreams, Christopher Clohessy, resident faculty member of Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI), and visiting lecturer at the Pontifical Beda College also in Rome. When, on an autumn Medina night in 61/680, the night that saw al-Ḥusayn killed, Umm Salama was torn from her sleep by an apparition of a long-dead Muḥammad, she slipped effortlessly into a progression of her co-religionists who, irrespective of status, gender or standing with God, were the recipients of dark and arresting visions. At the core of those Delphian dreams, peopled by angels or ğinn or esteemed forbears and textured with Iraqi dust and martyrs’ blood, was the Karbalāʾ event. Her dream would be recounted by an array of Muslim scholars, from al-Tirmiḏī, stellar pupil of al-Buḫārī, and Ibn ʿAsākir, untiring chronicler of Syrian history, to bibliophile theologian Ibn Ṭāʾūs and Egyptian polymath al-Suyūṭī. But this was not Umm Salama’s only otherworldly encounter and she was not the only one to have al-Ḥusayn’s fate disturb her nights. This presentation will explore their story.  A recording of this event can be seen here.

Hosted by: Sabine Schmidtke (School of Historical Studies, IAS) and George A. Kiraz (School of Historical Studies, IAS and Editor-in-Chief, Gorgias Press) in cooperation with Angelos Chaniotis (School of Historical Studies, IAS)

March 16: Near Eastern Studies Seminar, Reconstructing al-Suddī, Joseph Witztum (IAS School of Historical Studies and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

March 23: Near Eastern Studies Lecture, Setting out from Mecca in 1481: About the possibly oldest extant Arabic travelogue from the Mashreq, Björn Bentlage (Orientalisches Institut, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg). A rare find from the late Mamluk period offers new insights into the origins of a literary form and practice which, over the next centuries, would continue to develop into an important and many-faceted genre tradition in the Mashreq. Whereas the Arabic travelogue is usually associated with a long line of Maghrebi scholars heading East, the production of travel descriptions in the Mashreq, in contrast, has in general received less scrutiny, and today’s knowledge of its contours and beginnings remain vague. Now, the (re-)discovery of an anonymous hajj account from the late 15th/9th century, which I believe to be the so far oldest extant travelogue from the East, opens up a window on the earliest phases of literary Arabic travel writing in the Mashreq, just as it sheds more light on the cultural context of the period. Setting out from Mecca in 1481, the travelogue’s narrative finally arrives in the scholarly scene of late Mamluk Damascus, featuring its own variegated selection from Arabic literary tradition along the way. The lecture will throw a spotlight on the manuscript text itself, and it will emphasize those aspects of its form and content that could make it a valuable source for other researchers interested in the period and literary history.  

March 29-April 1: Conference, Power, Religion and Wisdom: Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy in al-Andalus and Beyond. Convened by Godefroid de Callataÿ (Université catholique de Louvain). Sponsored by Sabine Schmidtke (School of Historical Studies, IAS).

March 30: Near Eastern Studies Seminar, Conversion, Revolution, and State Formation in the Mountains of the Medieval Islamic World.

April 18: Committee for the Study of Late Antiquity Lecture, Princeton University, Between an Auction and a Theme Park: Tracing Syriac Manuscripts in the United StatesGrigory Kessel, (IAS School of Historical Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences and The University of Manchester. Scheide Caldwell House, Room 103, 4:30 pm.

April 27: Near Eastern Studies and Digital Scholarship@IAS joint lecture, The Preservation of Documentary Heritage in the MENASA Region: The Role of the QNL, Stephane Ipert, LL.M., Director of distinctive collections at the Qatar National Library (QNL), a unique collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps and archival collections about Qatar and the Islamic world. Since 2015 the QNL is the IFLA PAC - Preservation and Conservation Center for Arabic countries and Middle East, (IFLA is the International Federation of Libraries Associations). Stephane has a background as conservator, art historian and lawyer. He is leading a regional project to counter documentary heritage trafficking in the MENASA region (Himaya) since 2021. Register in advance here. After registering, you will receive an email containing information about joining the event.

June 23: The Author's VoiceThe symbolic language of Ethiopian crosses: Explorations through form and ritual, Maria Evangelatou, Associate Professor of Mediterranean Studies in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department, at the University of California Santa Cruz.  Ethiopia is unique in the world for the incomparable prominence of the cross in the life of its Orthodox Christian population. Crosses of unparalleled intricacy and sophistication are extensively used in religious and magic rituals, as well as in the daily social interactions and personal experiences of people in diverse contexts. A close contextual analysis of select visual material suggests that Ethiopian crosses can be read as visual discourse on a broad range of ideas: from religious beliefs about protection and salvation to interrelated socio-political values regarding order and power, and from individual and collective notions of identity to cultural notions of local and universal history. Thus, the cross emerges as the sacred matrix that encompasses the life of the world in both its microcosmic and macrocosmic dimensions; and as the social and cultural nexus through which and with which people interact in order to shape and express personal and communal identities and hopes. Register in advance here. After registering, you will receive an email containing information about joining the event.

Hosted by: Sabine Schmidtke (School of Historical Studies, IAS) and George A. Kiraz (School of Historical Studies, IAS and Editor-in-Chief, Gorgias Press) in cooperation with Angelos Chaniotis (School of Historical Studies, IAS)

September 19: Symposium, Medieval (and Premodern) Muslim Scholars at Work: A Symposium in Honor of Etan KohlbergConvenors: Joseph Witztum (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) and Sabine Schmidtke (Institute for Advanced Study). To be held virtual from 3:00-9:00 pm Jerusalem time (8:00 am-2:00 pm EST).

September 29: The Author's VoiceThe Perils and Joys of writing on the Arabs before Islam, Ayad Al-Ani, Professor for Change Management and Consulting, Associate Member of the Einstein Centre Digital Future, Berlin, and Professor extraordinary at the School of Public Leadership, Stellenbosch University.  For a political scientist, the contradictory themes surrounding the Arabs and their region before the coming of Islam often seem strange and incomprehensible. Although there are no major barriers posed by rivers or mountain ranges, numerous civilizations are identified in the region each with their own language. As such, there is little opportunity for an Arab identity to emerge among those groups, despite the fact the Arabs themselves, as well as the Romans, seemingly had no problem identifying "Arabs". Some discussions on the theme have revealed a hesitancy in delineating the Arab language and script before the 5th century, rendering the appearance of the Qur’an mysterious. The majority of Arabs in the Roman East were Christians by this same period, and some still believe that monotheistic informants of the prophet need to be identified. Once these contradictions are unraveled a fascinating longue durée of events can emerge, which provides a common historical space between the East and the West, with religious ideas flowing from the periphery to the center. This talk will explore the process of dealing with these and other contradictions by adding a political and sociological lens to this stretch of history which focuses on the disappearance of the Arabs from history before Islam, their sudden appearance behind the banners of the Prophet, and the powerful and traumatic effect this emergence into world history has had on the relationship between the Arabs and the West. Register in advance here. After registering, you will receive an email containing information about joining the event.

Hosted by: Sabine Schmidtke (School of Historical Studies, IAS) and George A. Kiraz (School of Historical Studies, IAS and Editor-in-Chief, Gorgias Press) in cooperation with Angelos Chaniotis (School of Historical Studies, IAS).

December 8: The Author's VoiceThrough the Prism of Wisdom: Elijah the Prophet as a Bearer of Wisdom in Rabbinic LiteratureHilla N. Alouf-Aboody, an independent scholar of Second Temple literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and rabbinic texts, who holds a PhD in Hebrew and Judaic Studies from New York University. This presentation will explore the nature of the Elijah traditions in rabbinic literature and their connection to the wisdom tradition. By examining the diverse Elijah traditions in connection to the wisdom and apocalyptic traditions, I aim to shed new light on the manner in which Elijah’s role developed in rabbinic literature. Register in advance here. After registering, you will receive an email containing information about joining the event.

Hosted by: Sabine Schmidtke (School of Historical Studies, IAS) and George A. Kiraz (School of Historical Studies, IAS and Editor-in-Chief, Gorgias Press) in cooperation with Angelos Chaniotis (School of Historical Studies, IAS)

Past Near Eastern and Islamic Studies Events