Middle East Studies

Cyril Villarosa Uy II researches Mongol-era Sufi Saʿd al-Dīn Ḥamuwayī in Istanbul

With generous funding from the Brown MES Graduate Research Travel Award, I spent several weeks in Istanbul, Turkey to conduct archival research for my dissertation, entitled "Lost in a Sea of Letters: Saʿd al-Dīn Ḥamuwayī (d. 1252) and the Plurality of Sufi Knowledge." The project focuses on the life and work of Saʿd al-Dīn Ḥamuwayī, an influential Mongol-era Sufi whose esoteric speculations on the alphabet, the universe, and human perfection both bewildered and inspired future generations of occultists, mystics, and messiahs. I link Saʿd al-Dīn to a network of Sufi figures spanning across the Mediterranean, the Iranian Plateau, and Central Asia, exploring how these thinkers defined and produced knowledge as a means of negotiating identity and relationships of power, wielding a variety of discursive strategies to articulate distinct positions within the diverse social, intellectual, and political contexts of the medieval Islamic world. 

I spent the majority of my time in the Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi archives, locating, examining, and purchasing digital copies of manuscripts for later study. Without undertaking this research, I would not have had access to the bulk of Ḥamuwayī's major and minor treatises, which remain unpublished. The works I have collected span a range of topics, genres, and modes of exposition, offering a rich foundation upon which to explore the overlapping con- cerns upon which the spiritual lineages, sectarian disputes, and political allegiances of Ḥamuwayī's era were imagined and articulated. 

In addition to identifying and collecting copies of Saʿd al-Dīn's treatises, I analyzed the material and organizational features of the manuscripts in which they were contained, comparing these to collections comprised of works written by Ḥamuwayī's interlocutors. To build upon these initial investigations, I have ordered copies of key manuscripts containing works by contemporaries such as Najm al-Dīn Kubrā (d. 1221), Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī (d. 1234), Muḥyī al-Dīn ibn ʿArabī (d. 1240), Sayf al-Dīn Bākharzī (d. 1261), and Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī (d. 1274) for close reading and further visual analysis. It is my hope that attention to the formal, visual, and even performative features of these manuscripts will offer a means of analyzing modes of knowledge that resist the propositional, logically oriented forms of system building familiar to modern rationalist frameworks, expanding the epistemological sensitivity of intellectual-historical approaches.