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CSI'S Monday Majlis:Hayrettin Yucesoy

Abbasid Political Thought: Religious and Secular Discipline of Power

The CSI Monday Majlis is a Monday evening, online event, where invited speakers present on aspects of their current research.

Event details




In my forthcoming book, Disenchanting the Caliphate: The Secular Discipline of Power in Abbasid Political Thought, I argue that political thought traditions prevalent in the caliphal world in the middle decades of the long eighth century diverged in two dialogic regimes of rationality: the religious governance of the ulema elaborated in what I call “imamate discourse” and the secular politics of lay bureaucrat literati expressed in the discursive tradition of siyasa. Initially emerging in the crucibles of imperial bureaucracy and separate from “scholastic” knowledge connected with mosques and ulema, siyasa discourse exposed the distinction between the ulema-centric idea of the caliphate (khilāfa) and royal authority (mulk) and thus disrupted and relativized the idea of the imamate/caliphate. In this presentation, I will focus on Abd al-Hamid al-Katib’s and Ibn al-Muqaffa’s writings in the dialogic and intertextual context of “imamate discourse” in the early eighth century to highlight the pioneering idea of sovereignty and its governmentalization in siyasa. Siyasa governance, in this analysis, is not a question of theological deliberation or religious jurisprudence interested in universal truths, but an art of mitigating contingency and managing affairs through the ruler’s rational reflection and practical prudence in order to produce social good. One gathers from the references to and reproduction of the early texts of siyasa in later centuries, that these foundational texts launched an intellectual tradition that generated a space of exploration for non-Arabic Muslim dynasties in Afro-Eurasia, including those of the Seljuk and the Ottoman Turks, the Mongols, and the Mughals.



Hayrettin Yücesoy is Associate Professor in the Department of Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies. He specializes in political thought and practice in the pre-Mongol Middle East, empire forms, and the Abbasid caliphate. Recently, he has been working on ideas of “good governance” and global forms of secularity as an entry-point to trace a genealogy of non-theological discourses of politics in the Middle East. Over the course of his career, he has published in English, Arabic, and Turkish. His publications include Disenchanting the Caliphate: The Secular Discipline of Power in Abbasid Political Thought (forthcoming in summer 2023 from Columbia University Press); Messianic Beliefs and Imperial Politics in Medieval Islam: The Abbasid Caliphate in the Early Ninth Century (Columbia, SC:  South Carolina University Press, 2009); The Development of Sunni Political Thought: The Formative Period (published in Arabic), Amman Dar al-Bashir, 1993).


In the spirit of the label ‘Majlis’, and also to make the talks even more interesting, we are experimenting with a new format presenting the topic discussed by our speaker as embedded in their own research journey. Please come and enjoy the talks and the discussions. If you’d like to be included in the CSI (Centre for the Study of Islam (Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter) mailing list, please contact the CSI Manager: Sarah Wood (
We’ll be happy to welcome you!

We’d like to invite you to the next online Monday Majlis of the Centre for the Study of Islam, Exeter:

Monday Majlis on the 27th March, 17:00-18:30 (UK time)

Hayrettin Yucesoy, Abbasid Political Thought: Religious and Secular Discipline of Power

Registration is required. Register please on this link: