Dissertation Defense: Nicholas Boylston
Tuesday, August 22 at 10:00am to 12:00pm
New North, 107 37th and O St., N.W., Washington
Candidate Name: Nicholas Boylston
Major: Theological and Religious Studies
Advisor: Paul Heck, Ph.D.
WRITING THE KALEIDOSCOPE OF REALITY, THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DIVERSITY IN 6th/12th CENTURY PERSIAN METAPHYSICAL LITERATURE: SANĀ'Ī, 'AYN AL-QUḌĀT AND ‘AṬṬĀR
This dissertation explores the significance of diverse forms of diversity in the writings of three 6th /12th century authors of Persian metaphysical literature, Sanā’ī of Ghazna (d. 525/1131), ‘Ayn al-Quḍāt Hamadānī (d. 525/1131) and Farīd al-Dīn ‘Aṭṭār (d. 618/1221), using methods of holistic reading. In particular, these authors approach diverse aspects of reality, religious belief, and the cultivation of humanity from multiple points of view, facilitated by the use of materials from diverse pre-existing Islamic intellectual and literary discourses. The core substantive argument of the dissertation is that the writings of Sanā’ī, ‘Ayn al-Quḍāt and ‘Aṭṭār are pluralist and perspectivist. By ‘pluralist’, I mean they actively valorize diversity. By ‘perspectivist’ I mean that they hold that there are multiple valid ways of understanding and describing reality.
Since in most cases the understanding of an author on any given issue involves the integration of multiple points of view, partial and selective readings of their works will often provide a misleading picture. As such, the core interpretive argument of the dissertation is that the pluralist and perspectivist character of the writings of Sanā’ī, ‘Ayn al-Quḍāt and ‘Aṭṭār means that their works are best read holistically. To read holistically is to read with the goal of addressing holistic questions. The efficacy of this holistic reading is demonstrated by the solutions it provides to particular problems in the study of each author.
Finally, I show how characteristics of the writings of these authors develop from their original syntheses of diverse points of view, the majority of which can be traced to a range of different Islamic intellectual and literary discourses. Thus, the core historical argument of the dissertation is that the pluralist and perspectivist characteristics of the writings of Sanā’ī, ‘Ayn al-Quḍāt and ‘Aṭṭār result from their conscious and original synthetic engagements with diverse discourses of the 6th /12th century. In the conclusion of the dissertation, I suggest that the findings presented on these three authors open new vistas to discovering the shared characteristics of 6th /12th century Persian metaphysical literature as a unique yet heretofore unrecognized stage in Islamic literary and intellectual history.
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