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CSI Monday Majilis

Yusuf Ünal

“Our State in the End Times:” The Safavid Rule and a Shi'i Theory of Sovereignty

Event details

Yusuf Ünal
“Our State in the End Times:” The Safavid Rule and a Shi'i Theory of Sovereignty

Monday Majlis Online on the 4th of March, 17:00-18:30 (UK time)
Centre for the Study of Islam, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter.

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Abstract: The talk will focus on the issues of legitimacy and sovereignty in the Safavid Empire and discuss the messianic and juristic underpinnings of the Safavid rule. The controversy surrounding Safavid political thought has predominantly centered on specific juristic debates, like those concerning Friday prayers and tax collection, often at the expense of exploring other relevant literary genres and religious treatises pertinent to political ideology and governance. Consequently, this narrow focus has hindered a comprehensive understanding of the broader discursive landscape shaping Safavid religiopolitical authority, its construction, projection, and negotiation. The existing literature on Safavid political thought has tended to perpetuate entrenched dichotomies, such as the dichotomy between messianic and juristic outlooks, and assumptions about the evolution of Safavid discourses of legitimacy—from extremist/antinomian (ghuluww) to a more orthodox and juridical stance—mirroring their evolving religious worldview. These perspectives have significantly influenced modern researchers' engagement with available Safavid sources, leading to potential misconceptions regarding key concepts of Safavid political thought, such as the nature of a just ruler.
Drawing upon several case studies across various literary genres and leveraging hitherto understudied primary sources, this presentation seeks to challenge some prevailing assumptions and offer fresh insights into the discourse surrounding Safavid political ideology.

Bio: Yusuf Ünal is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University, currently working on the project titled “Rosewater, Nightingale, and Gunpowder: A Sensory History of the Islamic World, 1500-1900.” His research focuses on the transformative impact of the Safavid Revolution on the religiopolitical landscape in Iran and across the central Islamic lands. Prior to joining Utrecht University, he served as an associate research scholar at the Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization at Yale Law School. As a Fulbright doctoral fellow, he earned his Ph.D. in Islamic Civilizations Studies from Emory University in 2023, completing a dissertation titled “The Safavid Revolution: Conversion, Violence, and Polemical Encounters in the Early Modern Middle East.”  

In the spirit of the label ‘Majlis’ and also to make the talks even more interesting, our speakers present the topic discussed as embedded in their own journey. You can watch the previous Majlises here, but we don’t record the Q&A in order to keep the discussion free. 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!
István T Kristó-Nagy