CFP for MESA 2018 Meeting: "Guiding the Pious-Minded Seekers of Knowledge: Literacy, Education, and Instructing of Sufis and Scholars in Egypt and the Ottoman World, ca.1500-1800 C.E.

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Greetings to all: We are seeking 1-2 additional members for a panel under construction for the MESA 2018 meeting in San Antonio, Texas to be held on November 15-18, 2018. Our present panel abstract reads as follows, but might be tweaked to accommodate presentation ideas that fit within the general framework:

Guiding the Pious-Minded Seekers of Knowledge:

Literacy, Education, and Instructing of Sufis and Scholars

in Egypt and the Ottoman World, ca.1500-1800 C.E.

This panel aims to investigate the education paths of Sufis and scholars in order to understand the discourses and literary genres, instruction methods, curriculum, and theories that were used to train Sufi novices and students of the learned hierarchy in the wider orbit of late Mamluk and Ottoman socio-cultural worlds. One of our goals is to trace the interactions between Mamluk, Egyptian, and Ottoman cultural and literary landscapes as they were depicted in literary and narrative sources. These writings were produced by Sufis and scholars who identified as being “Misri/Egyptian”, “Turki/Mamluk,” and/or “Rumi/Ottoman” authors. Overarching themes for our panel include literacy, education, and instruction methods that connected early modern Egyptian, Mamluk, and Ottoman scholarly and intellectual networks.

What we know about the educational infrastructure of Sufis and scholars mostly focuses on “official” or “orthodox” channels of training and instruction. For instance, the available literature for the education of Sufis in the early modern Ottoman-Khalwati context in Egypt and the Ottoman realms reveals a commitment to mold the novices on the seyr-i sülūk (entering the path of guidance and education for the novice and the dervish), done in accordance with the rules of conduct specific to the regional path/tariqa into which the trainee was initiated. Most of our knowledge regarding the instruction of Sufis relies on the accepted notions that the doctrinal blueprint of the founder(s) of specific tariqas played an unequivocally central and exclusive role in providing a set curricula for their followers. It is also assumed that the advanced Sufi teachers/masters had overarching authority and control over what their pupils/disciples read. These tacit assumptions need to be reconsidered, since new research reveals that texts penned for the education of novices and acolytes were much more varied than previously assumed. Furthermore, books, manuals, and treatises traveled with their readers, as translations and adaptations from “unorthodox” sources and “unofficial” literary genres and texts found ways into the personal libraries of itinerant Sufis. Sometimes, treatises that fell outside of the body of accepted corpus—such as the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet Muhammad in addition to the literary corpus of the founder—found curious audiences in the minds of aspiring Sufis. A similar trajectory can be observed in the education of pupils training to become members of the learned elites. Exposure to unexpected and diverse body of texts impacted not only the foundations of the education and the intellectual literacy of both camps, but also guided the components of the literatures they produced as authors.

In this panel we seek to examine the experiences of itinerant Sufis and scholars at various stages in their “way stations of instruction,” and examine the ways in which the contents of their writings overlapped. Sufis and scholars who stood at the receiving end of instruction became teachers/masters themselves, thus shaping the literary, scholarly, and cultural legacies of their respective institutions. By illuminating how the various languages/genres of education and instruction impacted the formation of different literary cultures in Mamluk and Ottoman contexts, we hope to better understand how different communities of prolific Sufis and scholars influenced the societies they lived in.

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Since we need to complete the registration process for the MESA conference by February 14, we look forward to processes responses quickly. We are looking forward to considering any possibilities that any of you might bring forward at this time.

Please contact the organizers for further follow-up and questions: Side Emre ( and John Curry (


Best regards, and thanks in advance,

Side Emre and John Curry