Dr Alessandro Cancian, Research Associate in the Institute’s Qur’anic Studies Unit, attended the 7th European Conference of Iranian Studies (ECIS 7) held in Cracow, Poland.

In his presentation, Dr Cancian introduced the main exegetical work of Sultan Ali-Shah Gunabadi (d. 1909 CE) from Bidukht in Khurasan, entitled Tafsir bayan al-sa‘ada fi maqamat al-‘ibada. Highlighting its hermeneutical principles, structure and style, Dr Cancian made a case for its relationship to the Shi‘i exegetical traditions. Sultan Ali-Shah Gunabadi is most widely known as the eponymous spiritual leader of the Gunabadi branch of the Ni‘matullahi Sufi order.

Elaborating on this tafsir, on which he is preparing a monograph, Dr Cancian explored some of the combinations of features of the work such as pre-Buyid, hadith-based commentaries and some typical traits of the classical mystical tafsirs. These traits, along with the work being used and quoted by a number of later Twelver exegetes, seem to place the Bayan as a sort of hermeneutic bridge between the late Imami exegetical methodology and the modern stage of Shi‘i exegesis.

Dr Cancian went on to explain that despite the remarkable influence – whether overt or dissimulated – exerted by this tafsir on later Shi‘i Qur’anic exegesis, the Bayan is still referred to with some reservations within mainstream exoteric Twelver Shi‘i circles, often not being considered at all within the larger Shi‘i framework. Dr Cancian discussed this bias, seeing it as grounded in delicate mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion, which encompass issues of authority, orthodoxy and legitimacy, rather than being intrinsically scholarly.

In his presentation, Dr Cancian also analysed some of the key issues related to these mechanisms in contemporary Shi‘ism through the lenses of Gunabadi Sufism, making sure to explore questions that arose organically from the subject matter, such as what determines a tafsir to be a work of Shi­‘i scholarship and how we define this when the Shi‘i author of a tafsir is also a Sufi.

He discussed the strategies of exclusion and inclusion that drive religious authority and how these strategies apply to 19th century Shi‘i-Sufi dynamics in general and to the Gunabadi Sufis in particular. A key point he raised was how the Sufis have countered such strategies at the intellectual and social levels.


About the conference:

The conference organised by the Societas Iranologica Europaea is considered the most prominent event in the field of Iranian Studies in Europe. The Conference was hosted by the Jagellonian University and was attended by more than 300 scholars from all over the world, dealing with both pre-Islamic and Islamic Iran. The conference topics included: Persian literature, Iranian philology, history, religious studies, cultural studies, art and archaeology and many others. The papers presented at ECIS 7 will be collected and published in the conference proceedings.