Michaelmas Term 2018: Tuesday, Week Two (16 October) 12.30-2pm
The Magrath room, The Queen’s College
'The Avicennan Turn in Syriac Theology: Barhebraeus (d. 1285/6) and his Engagement with Islamic Metaphysics', Salam Rassi (British Academy postdoctoral fellow, University of Oxford)
The topic of my presentation centres on one aspect of my British Academy-funded project, namely, the impact of Avicennism on the metaphysical thought of Gregory Barhebraeus, a 13th century polymath who has often been compared to Thomas Aquinas and is of comparable significance to the Syrian Orthodox Church today. I will examine Barhebraeus’ doctrine of modulation of being in light of contemporary debates among his Muslim interlocutors. I wish to demonstrate that to understand Barhebraeus on this issue is not simply to understand his engagement with Avicenna; rather, it is necessary to understand the post-Avicennan tradition of commentary that had developed among Islamic thinkers in the 200 years after Avicenna’s death. Thus, my project seeks to show that a comprehensive history of the reception of Avicenna can only be written when we consider the evidence from Syriac sources – material that few scholars have systematically studied. In addition to discussing the philosophical background to these texts, I also wish to talk about the philological challenges posed by the several manuscripts that preserve them. No less than ten manuscripts survive of Barhebraeus’ work on metaphysics. As such, my talk considers the role of these texts’ scribal and codicological traditions in mediating the philosophical knowledge contained therein.
'Writerly Emancipation or Gendered Erasure? The Neglect of the Traditional Category ‘Female Poet’ in Contemporary Persian Literary Culture', Dominic Parviz Brookshaw, Associate Professor of Persian Literature and Senior Research Fellow (Wadham)
This paper will explore the question of the authenticity, importance, and potentially empowering nature of the traditional category of ‘woman poet’ (sha‘ira) as used in Persian literary texts through a close reading of biographical anthologies (sing. tazkira)produced in early modern Iran. Persian tazkiras were variously structured according to geography, time period, social class, and/or gender.In this presentation, tazkiras in which premodern and early modern female poets are listed alongside male poets will be compared to those anthologies in which women are treated as a separate writerly category. It will be argued that those compiling tazkiras in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuriesa) believed women poets constituted a distinct class that merited study in its own right, b) did not necessarily see women poets as less talented than their male counterparts and, c) that the term sha‘iracarried none of the pejorative or demeaning connotations it later accrued in the second half of the twentieth century. It will be argued that when we resist employing the traditional category of sha‘ira, we do an injustice to the millennium-long tradition of Persian women’s poetry.
Trinity Term 2017: Tuesday, Week Four (16 May) 12.30-2pm
The Magrath room, The Queen’s College
'Transmission and Sectarianism: the Manuscript Tradition of Bal'ami's History', Fuchsia Hart, (Wolfson College)
We have been left with some 160 manuscript copies of Bal’ami's (d.974) tārīkh-nāmah-yi buzurg (The Great History), a Persian adaptation of Tabari’s (d.923) tārīkh al-rusūl wa'l-mulūk (The History of Prophets and Kings). With such a large number of copies, one would think the reconstruction of an urtext might be possible. However, great divergence is found among the texts preserved in these copies. In this presentation, I will focus on one copy of the text, Bodleian MS Elliott 376, copied in 1537, which presents a clearly Shi'i rendering of the text. We will investigate this version, in comparison with a number of other copies, to explore what effect sectarianism can have on textual transmission.
'Encountering Wrath: Texts and the History of Practice in Mediaeval India and Tibet', Aleksandra Wenta, (Queen’s)
This presentation focuses on Sanskrit manuscripts and Tibetan xylographs associated with the cycle of teachings centered on the Buddhist deity Vajrabhairava who embodies ‘wrath’. The talk will explore the use of these texts to determine the textual practices in which people engaged and examine the ways in which active engagement in performative textuality had decidedly soteriological goal. By following a text-historical method, I intend to show that these textual practices were formulated in a language that ‘spoke’ to specific audiences situated in a particular ideological and historical milieu associated with the tantric culture of the cremation grounds characterized by rituals involving contact with impure substances.
Trinity Term 2017: Tuesday, Week Two (2 May) 12.30-2pm
The Magrath room, The Queen’s College
'A new Sumerian poem of the 20th century BC: An illustrated talk', Dr Christopher Metcalf (Queen's)
This talk will present the results of a research project on an unpublished Sumerian literary text from ancient Mesopotamia, dating to ca. 2000 BC. The text, which is today in the collections of the British Museum, describes the relationship between the goddess Inana, one of the main deities of the ancient Mesopotamian pantheon, and a king of the dynasty of Isin. The talk will explore the rich mythological conceptions that lie behind this fascinating but difficult poem, which will be edited for the first time in a forthcoming joint publication on which I have worked for three years with a colleague at SOAS, University of London.
‘Seals and their impressions in the Ancient Near East’, Jacob Dahl (Wolfson)
Four core datasets constitute the main material and intellectual remains of one of the world’s most important early civilisations, that of the Ancient Near East (ANE): cuneiform tablets, remains of architecture, pottery, and seals and their impressions on clay artefacts. Although seals have attracted much interest as objects of art, no project has attempted their systematic documentation and study, and fundamental questions regarding seal use and manufacture remain unanswered. In this presentation I will outline a project I am starting, and which was generously funded by the Fell Fund in the first instance, and which aims at building and testing an innovative new image capture system for use in imaging several key-collections of seals. Based on the sample dataset I hope to pilot the use of innovative methods for sorting and tagging the dataset, ultimately leading to a new approach to the study of ANE seals that is not based on traditional art historical methods. In my project I address one single, but fundamental question: why have scholars failed to match up more than a handful of physical seals and impressions? I consider this to be either a data problem—relationships exist in published data but have gone unrecognized due to flawed data-mining capabilities or strategies—, or an historical problem—the physical seals we have in our collections are from a different dataset than those whose impressions we find on tablets and sealings, or seals were continuously re-carved, thereby reducing the likelihood of finding a matching seal and impression. I will replace the traditional art-historical typology with IT-driven image-analysis. This data-driven typology will facilitate pathways to data of hitherto unseen magnitude, allowing for a multitude of research questions to be addressed, and will, I hope, have a transformational effect on the study of seals and sealing practices in the ANE, and rich applications to other projects across the humanities at Oxford and beyond.