Caliphs, Sultans, Presidents: Rulers between Religion and Realpolitik throughout Islamic History
Contrary to the widely held public notion that polities in the Islamic World were and are constituted on a religious basis, most Islamic polities are not organised as theocracies. It is accurate, however, that a multiplicity of models of governance has been conceived, discussed and demanded based on the religion of Islam. These concepts of the ‘ideal Islamic state’ were to compete with non-Islamic conceptions – such as military culture – and constraints of realpolitik requiring a pragmatic approach.
This workshop will investigate areas of tension in which rulers oscillate between religion and realpolitik. Tensions arise when a ruler’s self-conception and his understanding of religion differ from religiously formulated conceptions of rule, resulting in conflicting claims. We are interested in what requirements Islamic scholars laid down for rulers, and in which way historical actors met those requirements. Furthermore, the question arises as to which mechanisms were available to shape a ruler’s political agenda. The historical reception of these actors, as well as the adoption of such rulers as role models for the conception of an ideal rule provide insights into the alteration and conservation of any such ideal rule through criticism and the formation of tradition.
At the same time, the inversion of this relationship – namely a ruler’s interference in religious doctrines and practice – deserves careful consideration. Moreover, provisions to influence Islamic scholars, such as through patronage, will be discussed. It is of great interest to the workshop, if and how rulers could establish authority and legitimacy based on religious conduct. A particular focus will be placed on processes of transformation, in which for instance a dynasty’s legitimation shifts from a military one to a religiously predicated self-authentication. In this context, special attention will be paid to syncretistic strategies of legitimation. Potentials and limits, as well as the variety of such strategies will be examined.
Additionally, various case studies of confrontations between rulers and religious factions will be analysed. Firstly, negotiation processes between rulers and religious authorities as they weighed up religious ideals versus a pragmatic approach to preservation of power will be explored. Secondly, violent episodes such as the persecution of religious groups or attempted coups on religious grounds will be scrutinised. The workshop aims at providing a cross section through Islamic history and covers in three distinct panels the periods of the early caliphates, the shadow caliphate, and modernity.