Building Safavid Isfahan - with Magic: Shaykh Baha’i as Architect-Mage

Tue, Feb 19, 2019, 12:00 pm to 1:20 pm
Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies

Shaykh Baha’i (d. 1621), the celebrated Baalbeki jurist, philosopher and mathematician, was one of the leading architects of the new Safavid capital of Isfahan. He is also acclaimed in contemporary and later sources as the leading mage of Safavid Iran. This talk explores the extent to which Shaykh Baha’i’s pronounced neopythagorean and occult-scientific proclivities—shared with many of his Safavid, Mughal, Uzbek and Ottoman scholarly peers—should be considered a crucial context for understanding his unprecedented vision for the redesign of Isfahan as mathematical model of paradise on earth, as well as the rejoinders to that vision composed by imperial competitors throughout the early modern Persianate world, including in the first place the Taj Mahal.

Matthew Melvin-Koushki (Ph.D. Yale) specializes in early modern Islamicate intellectual and imperial history, with a focus on the theory and practice of the occult sciences in Timurid-Safavid Iran and the broader Persianate world to the 19th century. His forthcoming books include The Occult Science of Empire in Aqquyunlu-Safavid Iran: Two Shirazi Lettrists and Their Manuals of Magic, and he is editor of the volume Islamicate Occultism: New Perspectives (2017). For more information about his research, please visit

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