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TALK | Zoroastrianism and the Idea of Universal Religion between Safavid Iran and Mughal India

Feb 12 Sheffield BB.jpg

Monday, February 12
A talk by Daniel Sheffield (Princeton)
"Zoroastrianism and the Idea of Universal Religion between Safavid Iran and Mughal India"
Moderated by Mana Kia, Assistant Professor, Indo-Persian Studies, MESAAS
Abstract: The event of the Islamic millennium at the end of the sixteenth century was accompanied by widespread speculation about the end of an Arab dispensation and the beginning of a new era of Persian rule. As the rulers of Safavid Iran and Mughal India sought out ancient apocalyptic texts from the Zoroastrian subjects of their empires, new groups of freethinkers and occultists claiming to revive the ancient religious practices of the Persians arose across the eastern Islamic world. Focusing on the messianic thinker Āẕar Kayvān (1533–1618 CE), who moved from Safavid Iran to Mughal India with his followers in the 1570s, this talk examines the hermeneutics of the new ideas about religious difference and universalism that emerged during this period. At the conclusion of the talk, I trace the quotation of works from this period in diverse sources ranging from the Persian writings of Rammohan Roy (1772–1833) to early Indian vernacular translations of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason to early Iranian nationalist publications of the late nineteenth century to explore the overlapping histories of early modern Islamic and European discourse on religious diversity.
Daniel Sheffield is Assistant Professor, Department of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University.  He earned his AB, AM, and PhD from Harvard University. He specializes in the religious, intellectual, and social history of the medieval and early modern Persian-speaking world. Before joining Princeton, Daniel was a member of the Department of History at the University of Washington. Sheffield is a specialist in exchanges between Safavid Iran and Mughal India, and in particular, the history of Zoroastrian communities during this period. More broadly, he is interested in the transmission and transformation of ideas from Late Antiquity into Early Modernity. His current research project examines the role that ideas about language and translation play in the development of religious and historical thought. Sheffield has recently completed a book manuscript entitled Cosmopolitan Zarathustras: Religion, Translation, and Prophethood in Iran and South Asia, which tells the story of the Zoroastrian communities of Iran and South Asia by tracing how the embrace of a cosmopolitan theological vocabulary and the reception of the canon of Classical Persian literature affects these communities, promoting the production of new forms of meaning-making and literary production under the specter of scholastic traditions inherited from Late Antiquity. He is currently pursuing research on a second book project, tentatively entitled On Translation and Toleration: The Free-Thinkers of Safavid Iran and Mughal India. He co-edited, with Alireza Korangy, There's No Tapping around Philology: A Festschrift for Wheeler McIntosh Thackston Jr.'s 70th Birthday (2014).