Research Programs: Fellowships for College Teachers and Independent Scholars

Period of Performance

9/1/2004 - 6/30/2005

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$40,000.00 (awarded)

Bodies of Saints: Religion and Society in the Late Medieval Islamic East, 1300-1500

FAIN: FB-50506-04

Shahzad Bashir
Carleton College (Northfield, MN 55057-4001)

I am seeking support for a sabbatical leave from teaching during 2004-5 to write a book on the late medieval religious history of the Islamic East (western, central, and southern Asia) gleaned from the discussion and depiction of the charisma of men and women recognized as great saints. Historical, hagiographic, literary, and artistic sources depicting the lives of Sufi masters and disciples contain a plethora of information that indicates that the saintly body, whether alive or entombed in majestic shrines, was a particularly potent carrier of religious power and authority during the late medieval era. This is confirmed by the extensive theorization of the saintly body in religious discussions emanating from mainstream as well as heterodox movements significant in the period. Informed by recent theoretical discussions in the humanities, and drawing on a wide array of sources in various languages, I treat the body as an individual, social, and political artifact reflective of the socioreligious environment of the region and period. The book addresses a significant lacuna in humanistic and social scientific studies of the body where Islamic materials have not received significant attention. The project also expands Islamic religious history into the social arena, beyond the concern with famous individuals, movements, and texts that remains dominant to the present. The inclusion of artistic material as a significant source for understanding views of the body adds a dimension that has hitherto received little attention in Islamic religious history. The book and articles generated by the study will advance scholarship in the understudied areas of Islamic religious and social history within the larger humanities umbrella.

Associated Products

Sufi Bodies: Religion and Society in Medieval Islam (Book)
Title: Sufi Bodies: Religion and Society in Medieval Islam
Author: Shahzad Bashir
Abstract: Between 1300 and 1500 C.E. a new form of Sufi Islam took hold among central Islamic peoples, joining individuals through widespread networks resembling today’s prominent paths and orders. Understanding contemporary Sufism requires a sophisticated analysis of these formative years. Moving beyond a straight account of leaders and movements, Shahzad Bashir weaves a rich history around the depiction of bodily actions by Sufi masters and disciples, primarily in Sufi literature and Persian miniature paintings of the period. Focusing on the Persianate societies of Iran and Central Asia, Bashir explores medieval Sufis’ conception of the human body as the primary shuttle between interior (batin) and exterior (zahir) realities. Drawing on literary, historical, and anthropological approaches to corporeality, he studies representations of Sufi bodies in three personal and communal arenas: religious activity in the form of ritual, asceticism, rules of etiquette, and a universal hierarchy of saints; the deep imprint of Persian poetic paradigms on the articulation of love, desire, and gender; and the reputation of Sufi masters for working miracles, which empowered them in all domains of social activity. Bashir’s novel perspective illuminates complex relationships between body and soul, body and gender, body and society, and body and cosmos. It highlights love as an overarching, powerful emotion in the making of Sufi communities and situates the body as a critical concern in Sufi thought and practice. Bashir’s work ultimately offers a new methodology for extracting historical information from religious narratives, especially those depicting extraordinary and miraculous events.
Year: 2011
Primary URL:
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 978-0-231-144