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Polymaths of IslamPower and Networks of Knowledge in Central Asia$
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James Pickett

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501750243

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501750243.001.0001

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Between Sharia and the Beloved

Between Sharia and the Beloved

Culture and Contradiction in Persianate Sunnism

(p.161) Chapter 6 Between Sharia and the Beloved
Polymaths of Islam

James Pickett

Cornell University Press

This chapter examines the puzzling implications inherent in the amalgamation of so many social roles and knowledge forms into the figure of the high Persianate intellectual. Its title alludes to two sorts of tension: paradoxes of hindsight that were not necessarily perceived as such within the society in question; and apparent logical contradictions of Perso-Islamic culture emerging from the primary sources themselves, products of their own time and understood as problematic by the historical actors in question. The chapter first addresses the former category: widespread belief in the everyday supernatural was for the most part compatible with scripturalist Islam, even though that imagery would seem to cut across the modern categories of “orthodoxy” and “folklore.” It demonstrates that there was no contradiction between these practices, to the extent that retrospective categorizations of orthodox mullahs, on the one hand, and ecstatic sufis and poets, on the other, ought to be jettisoned altogether. These were all social roles performed by the polymaths of Islam. The chapter then looks at tensions within Islamic society during the long nineteenth century.

Keywords:   high Persianate intellectual, Perso-Islamic culture, supernatural, scripturalist Islam, orthodox mullahs, sufis, polymaths, Islam, Islamic society

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