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Grant number like: FA-50468-04

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Cornell H. Fleischer
University of Chicago (Chicago, IL 60637-5418)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

[Grant products]

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2004 – 6/30/2005

A Muslim Life in Learning and Politics: 'Abd al-Rahman al-Bistami of Antioch (d. 1454)

'Abd al-Rahman al-Hanafi al-Bistami al-Hurufi (b. Antioch ca. 1375, d. Bursa 1454), a peripatetic Muslim polymath, spent a life located, in all senses, at the intersection of the extraordinary political and spiritual contestations his era witnessed. Both a legist and a mystic, he systematized and popularized occult sciences--particularly his gematric "science of letters and divine names"--and apocalyptic lore, all of which he taught to the leading scholars of his day and the princes he advised; for centuries he remained the leading authority on Last Things. In addition to some thirty works on topics ranging from medicine, to the occult, to history and cosmology, Bistami left a unique autobiographical memoir (a rarity in medieval Islamic letters) of his life in learning within a highly experimental religious and intellectual environment. I will examine and analyze his still unpublished Arabic corpus, in conjunction with his biography set in its fluid political context, in order to 1) delineate the esotericist, antinomian, and chiliastic currents underlying late medieval Islamic intellectual life, and 2) examine the role that these currents played in the sacralization of the new dynasties that founded, around the turn of the sixteenth century, the early modern regional empires which dominated Islamdom until the early twentieth century.