Associate Professor — Ph.D, Indiana University
The Rise of the Abbasid Public Sphere: The Case of al-Mutanabbi and Three Middle Ranking Patrons. Al-Qantara: Special Issue on Patronage in Islamic History. Vol. 29, no. 2. Edited by Esperanza Alfonso Carro. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Instituto "Miguel Asín," pp. 467-494.
The tenth century in Iraq and Syria saw an unprecedented rise in the number of canonical poets who were delivering glorious praise hymns (madih) to middling members of society. Scholars have posed many theories in the past 30 years to explain the function and purpose of praise hymns for royalty and rulers, but why would ordinary men who had no hope of rulership pay painful sums to commission praise hymns in their favor? This article examines the emergence of a new kind of sociability and patronage in the tenth century that enabled middling people to form alliances and exercise influence in shaping ideals of government, leadership and manhood. Examples are given of poems to patrons of middle rank who gain glory and influence via the artistic endorsement of al-Mutanabbi (d. 965): The first ode restores the public dignity of a nineteen-year-old soldier who lost his face in battle; in the second ode, the poet glorifies and defends a state clerk who had little-known Sufi leanings; in the third ode, the poet vindicates an unmasked pseudo- Muslim who was in private a Christian. Using J. Habermas’s theory of the “Public Sphere,” I show the way these odes illustrate how middling members of society gained influence in a public sphere of participation and took measures to preserve that influence.
Early Islam-Monotheism or Henotheism? A View from the Court. Journal of Arabic Literature. Vol. 39, no. 1. Leiden: E. J. Brill, pp. 14-37
This article employs sources produced by people who worked at the Abbasid court in order to expose a tension in early Islamic society between two systems of sacrility. An emerging monotheism was promoted by pious elders (mashāyikh) and ascetics (nussāk), which gave power and authority to one absolute deity, Allāh. Th e court, and most members of society, favored an older system, henotheism, which championed the sacrility of leadership archetypes, the king, sultan, saint, and master-teacher, while tolerating the emerging new sacredness of the One. The latter system enjoyed familiarity since ancient times in the Near East and vested nearly all leadership roles in society with a measure of sacred power and authority, hence adding to the stability of Abbasid hierarchy. Here, I examine three major practices at the court for generating sacrility, including praise hymns (madīḥ) in honor of great men, palace space-usage and architecture, as well as bacchic culture, which all privileged the caliph and his subordinates. The implications of symbol usage extend far beyond the court since underlings appropriated it in seeking rank and status by emulating their superiors.
Singing Samarra (861-956): Poetry and the Burgeoning of Historiography upon the Murder of al-Mutawakkil. Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Vol. 6. Edinburgh University Press, pp. 1-23
Historiography on the patricide/regicide of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil (d. 861) developed from a stage of simple description to a burgeoning of mytho-historical narrative. It would appear that what began as a palace scandal—profaning to a putatively sacral community already torn by civil war—developed into a redemptive tragedy with perennial appeal. In a patronage society governed by loyalty to one’s patron or father, this transformation should count as nothing less than conspicuous. This article examines the role of a major Abbasid poet, al-Buḥturī (d. 897), in shaping public perception by cultivating genuine sympathy for the Abbasids and planting the seeds of questions that would be addressed in historical narratives. In particular, I discuss the importance of literary salons or gatherings as a social institution where poetry and historical narratives were recited orally as a means of transmitting knowledge to future generations. These gatherings provide a likely forum where mythic questions of poetry could inspire narrative.
Reinterpreting al-Buhturi's Iwan Kisra Ode: Tears of Affection for the Cycles of History. Journal of Arabic Literature. Vol. 37, no. 1. Leiden: E. J. Brill, pp. 46-67
The poet al-Buhturi (d. 897) composed a deeply disturbing ode in mid-career, dubbed the Iwan Kisra Ode. Scholars have conventionally interpreted the Iwan Kisra Ode as an anti-imperial ode critical of the Abbasids in a time of decline evinced by the murder of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil (d. 861) and the emerging power of the Turkic guards at Samarra. This article re-examines al-Buhturi’s own motives to demonstrate that an anti-imperial ode would be anathema to his interests and posits an alternative interpretation. The analysis is based on extensive Abbasid lore and a close reading of the ode. It suggests that the ode had the effect of redeeming the Abbasids in order to avoid civil strife in a time of danger.
Praise for Murder?: Two Odes by al-Buhturi surrounding an Abbasid Patricide. In Writers
and Rulers: Perspectives on Their Relation from Abbasid to Safavid Times (Vol. 16 in Series
Literaturen im Kontext: Arabisch - Persisch – Turkisch). Ed. Beatrice Gruendler and Louise
Marlow. Wiesbaden, Germany: Reichert, pp. 1-38