Eastern Iran and Transoxiana 750-1150: Persianate culture and Islamic civilization
8-9 March 2013

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About the conference

The lands of Eastern Iran and Transoxiana played a formative role in Islamic civilization. The mashriq, as the region was known in Arabic, was the basis for the revolution which brought to power the greatest of the Arab dynasties of the classical age, the ‘Abbasid Caliphate, in 750. Its cities became famed for their Islamic learning, such that most of the compilations of hadith, along with the Qur’an authoritative sources of law for Muslims, were compiled by scholars from the region. Arabs settled in large numbers, but many soon adopted Persian as their language, giving rise to the new hybrid Arabic-influenced form of Persian which is still in use today.

A new composite culture based on this mixture of Arabic and Iranian roots came into being, with momentous consequences, for from the tenth century ethnically Persian dynasties started to dominate the eastern Islamic world. This ‘Iranian Intermezzo’ or ‘Persian Renaissance’ has long been recognized as a period of key importance for the formation of Islamic civilization, both in political and intellectual terms. Yet the origins of this phenomenon remain little understood, and its influence on later, ethnically Turkish but culturally Persianate, dynasties has yet to be fully explored. Moreover, we still lack a broad understanding of why these developments should have originated in eastern Iran and Central Asia, apparently so distant from the heartlands of both the Caliphate and the Sasanian Empire. The significance of the period can be found in virtually every area of historical inquiry. Geopolitically, these Persianate dynasties formed the mainstay of Islamic military might for some 400 years. During the period of their hegemony, the Muslim religion spread into Turkic Central Asia and Muslim rule expanded deep into Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Culturally, these dynasties presided over, and in many cases helped further, the formation of much of classical Islamic civilization.

In the linguistic and literary sphere, the Persian period was characterized by the rise of the Persian-speaking court, thus bringing about the literary flowering of the classical Persian language and its acceptance as the second primary Islamic language of high culture. This development in turn led to the writing of many of Islamic civilization’s greatest works of poetry, philosophy, biography, history, belles-lettres, and religion in Persian. Yet at the same time Arabic continued to be a major literary language, and the oldest Persian works were based on translations from the Arabic. Indeed, some of the most famous works of Arabic literature, such as the maqamat of Hamadhani, originated in the tenth-eleventh century east.

Militarily and politically, Persian-speaking dynasties held sway over the Islamic heartland, from India to Egypt. From the eleventh century, with the coming of the Seljuqs, they challenged the traditional Islamic conception of the Caliphate as the sole legitimate universal political authority for Sunnis, thus leading to a sea-change in Sunni political theory and the writing of the classic works of this genre.

Despite its seminal importance, this period has remained one of the most obscure and neglected in Islamic history. In order to address this the Institute of Iranian Studies is hosting this two day conference in which a number of leading specialists in the field will explore why and how Khurasan and Transoxiana became one of the most culturally and politically dynamic areas of the Muslim world, from the launch of the Abbasid revolution to the empire of Sanjar.

The conference is being run in association with the Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame. We are also grateful for assistance from the Department of Arabic - School of Modern Languages, University of St Andrews. Our sponsors include the British Institute of Persian Studies, The Honeyman Foundation, Iran Heritage Foundation, University of St Andrews and University of Notre Dame.

Programme and Details >>