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Gaza emerged from the Crusading and Ayyubid periods as a small town of minor importance, particularly run down by incessant military activity in the area in the middle decades of the thirteenth century. Under the Mamluk Sultans from 1260 CE onward, the city regained much of its former importance, and perhaps, in some ways, reached new heights. It is described in Arabic and other sources as a prosperous center, not least due to it becoming the capital of a newly organized province around 1300. Other reasons behind these auspicious economic and demographic trends were the massive patronage of the Mamluk elite, a burgeoning agricultural hinterland and ongoing interregional trade. Probably the most important cause for the overall positive developments in the city and its surrounding countryside was the general sense of security provided by the Mamluk regime, including arrangements to keep local nomads (not only Bedouins, but also Kurds and Turkmans who immigrated to the area) under control and to integrate them into the local economy and administrative scheme. Gaza and its region also underwent a process of Islamization, encouraged by the Mamluk authorities. The city and its environs certainly took on a more Islamic appearance, due to construction of large and small buildings. There are increased Muslim religious activities of various kinds in mosques, madrasas, zawiyas and maqams. This may well indicate an increased Muslim population in the region, both in absolute and relative terms. Gaza can be seen an as example of such trends of Islamization in Palestine (and beyond) in the period between the end of Frankish rule and the coming of the Ottomans in 1516.



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In recent decades the Abbasid caliphate of Cairo has continued to attract scholarly attention. An often neglected though noteworthy period of the caliphate’s tenure in Mamluk Cairo is the late fourteenth century reign of the caliph al-Mutawakkil ʿalā ʾllāh Muḥammad (r. 763-85/1362-83 and 791-808/1389-1406). Over the course of his time in office, al-Mutawakkil had been offered the sultanate on at least three occasions: at ʿAqaba in 1377, as an alternate candidate to the Circassian amir (and later sultan) Barqūq in 1382, and later during the rebellion of Yalbughā al-Nāṣirī and Minṭāsh in 1390. Al-Mutawakkil proved consistent in his refusal of the office and was wise enough to realize that any such assumption of interim power would likely spell his own political undoing. Nevertheless, competing Mamluk amirs time and again referred to his authori-ty and continued to put him forth as an acceptable contender for the sultanate. Based on sources from the Mamluk period and modern studies, this working paper addresses how and why the caliphate remained an important symbol in late fourteenth century Mamluk politics. 


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Ibn Taymiyya’s al-Siyāsa al-sharʿiyya fī iṣlāḥ al-raʿī wa-l-raʿiyya is a very famous book. Al-Siyāsa al-sharʿiyya is also a complex work that displays a variety of meanings cohabiting together rather harmoniously. The generic and synthetic nature of this treatise, together with Ibn Taymiyya’s controversial legacy, has opened the way to many different claims of what the treatise is about. To some extent, the purpose of the present paper is simple. I intend to present and discuss the contents of Ibn Taymiyya’s al-Siyāsa al-sharʿiyya through a close reading of the text that will take into account two different editions of it so far unnoticed by Western scholars. By so doing, I hope that some of the prevailing ideas about what al-Siyāsa al-sharʿiyya fī iṣlāḥ al-raʿī wa-l-raʿiyya is can be complemented by new perspectives. In particular, I shall argue that the common view that the book is about the coercive power of the state as in punishment, jihad and public order is to be partially revisited and that pursuing a study of the text’s manuscript tradition is an urgent scholarly task. By focusing on the existence of different versions of Ibn Taymiyya’s treatise on siyāsa, the present paper also open questions about their possible meanings.


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Amir ʿAlam al-Dīn Sanjar al-Shujāʿī (d. 693/1294) was a very influential and powerful amir, perhaps most recognized for his appointments to the vizierate in Egypt and for his role in the military campaigns against the Crusaders. Throughout his career he also acquired a great deal of experience supervising royal constructions for sultans Qalāwūn and al-Ashraf Khalīl. Consequently, he supervised over a dozen new constructions and renovations in Cairo and Greater Syria. The overwhelming majority of these buildings no longer survive and are only available to us in the sources. In this Working Paper the trajectory of Sanjar al-Shujāʿī’s life is traced from his upbringing in Damascus to his death at the hands of al-ʿĀdil Kitbughā, integrating his architectural activity along the way. While the most famous building project that Sanjar al-Shujāʿī supervised was the funerary complex of Sultan al-Mansūr Qalāwūn (683/1284-1285), the objective of this paper is profile his career more fully in order to identify patterns and insights into his style and its evolution, which can be used as a tool in the future to link him to projects that are not explicitly linked to him in the sources.

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This working paper summarises the main research results of my research stay as a post-doc research fellow at the Annemarie-Schimmel-Kolleg. The aim of this research project is to cast light on knowledge brokerage between Ilkhanid Tabriz and Mamlūk Cairo during the third reign of the Mamlūk ruler an-Nāṣir Muḥammad (r. 1310-1341). Therefore, it focuses on the Sunni scholar Šams ad-Dīn Maḥmūd Ibn ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān al-Iṣfahānī (d. 749/1348) and his role as a philosophical broker in religious and educational foundations (ḫānqāhs) devoted in the first place to religious practices of Sufism. This working paper is divided into three parts: 1. the academic setting of the present post-doc research project, 2. a biography of Šams ad-Dīn Maḥmūd al-Iṣfahānī, and 3. an analysis of the text data of my research project from the perspective of both social and intellectual history.

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As an institution that fulfilled both religious and civil functions, the mosque facilitated the establishment of Muslim rule and played an essential role in the consolidation and construction of the identity of the new emerging Muslim society. The aims of this research are twofold: the first is to record the mosques that were built throughout the region. The second aim of this project is to try and follow the pace of Islamization from the Arab conquest (638CE) up until the end of the Mamluk period (1517CE), by examining the spatial distribution of mosques in the region of what are today the modern states of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
By recording the mosques built over the period under discussion and examining them in the wider historical frame one may well be able to provide a better picture of what might have occurred in this region. The corpus of mosques (which does not form part of this publication) is drawn from historical sources, the large body of inscriptions that commemorate the construction and/or repairs of mosques, and archaeological excavations and surveys.
The following is a preliminary analysis of this data. It is important to stress here that this work is still in progress and that the database may grow and the picture presented here may well change.

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This working paper is a reflexive essay that tries to think with and beyond one of the basic assumptions upon which the field of late medieval Syro-Egyptian ‘Mamluk’ studies is built: the idea that all late medieval Syro-Egyptian objects of study are by default first and foremost connected, circumscribed and distinguished by some agency of dominant military slavery, of Mamluk-ness. Acknowledging that there may be different ways to pursue such an epistemological exercise, this essay opts for re-imagining the historical agency of what traditionally tends to be subsumed under the phenomenon of the Mamluk state. It is argued that the notions of state in modern research and of dawla in contemporary texts remain an issue of related analytical confusion. Engaging with this confusion in the generalising fashion of a historical sociology of late medieval Syro-Egyptian political action, this essay proposes an alternative analytical model that is inspired by Michael Chamberlain’s prioritisation of social practices of household reproduction and by Timothy Mitchell’s related understanding of the state as a structural effect of practices of social differentiation. The proposed model sees sultanic political order —the state— as process, in constant flux as the structural effect and structuring embodiment of constantly changing practices of social reproduction, of elite integration and of political distinction, in contexts that range between multipolar and unipolar social organisation at and around Cairo’s court and its military elites. The essay ends with summarily suggesting from this model how the socio-culturally structured and structuring memories of dynastic political order that had remained politically dominant for most of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were all but obliterated in the fifteenth century by a new layer of particularly ‘Mamluk’ socio-political meaning.

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This paper consists of two parts. In Part One I trace the history of the name “Zawāwa” in the medieval Arabic sources both eastern and western from the early Islamic period until the 16th century. The near absence of any reference to the Zawāwa in the early sources for the history of the Maghrib stands in contrast to the frequent appearance of the term in later sources such as Ibn Ḫaldūn’s history and as-Saḫāwī’s biographical dictionary and I propose an explanation for this. In Part Two I have compiled biographical information on prominent Zawāwīs who lived in Egypt and Syria during the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods.

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This Working Paper questions the concept of “Islamic Art History”. The term is amorphous: ever since the fundamental studies of Oleg Grabar we have known that the direct allocation of religion to art and vice versa raises questions. Art constitutes a cultural subsystem within societies. Sociologically, art has to be tied, or referred, to the realms of politics, economics, law, social orders, institutions and further cultural patterns. Only in the interplay with other cultural studies and the humanities is it possible to deconstruct art, considering its function and cultural context. Often enough it considers its task in the recording, description and classification of objects. This is, of course, an important and essential step, yet, it should not be the reason for stopping to ask further questions about the objects and, especially, to relate them to their socio-cultural context in which they emerged and to which they have to be related. In general, we ask how concepts current in postcolonial studies in disciplines such as history and comparative literature can help Islamic art historians to re-envision their objects of study.

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This Working Paper describes the starting point for a post-doctoral project on the social, economic and political meaning and function of memorial architecture constructed during the Mamluk and early Ottoman time in a geographical area that today belongs to the kingdom of Jordan. The post-doctoral project aims at building up a sound documentation of these hitherto neglected structures of the Mamluk and early Ottoman Memorial architecture in this area; it will include a study of their function for the region, but also for the central power in Cairo and Syria in pre-modern times. An important issue of the post doc-project will be to unveil which images of history materialize in the architecture and how they were adapted and exploited by different groups from the past until today.
This Working Paper provides also a short insight into the results of two short field researches in 2013 and 201, which where intended to gain a first insight into the structures, forms, condition and accessibility of the buildings. The methodological work in this post-doctoral project is intended to be interdisciplinary. The analysis is not limited to a philological, historical-critical evaluation of written source material, or an archaeological approach but also includes art historical analysis of the existing buildings and the technic of interviews in the overall consideration of memorial architecture in Jordan.

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This paper offers new approaches on how to analyze ḥadīṯ collections and to make them useable for social and intellectual history. While focusing on the so called buldāniyyāt (geographical ḥadīṯ collections) – a subgroup of the forty ḥadīṯ collections – the study explores new forms of knowledge that an author includes into his collection to make it innovative for his reference group. The idea of what an innovative work should be is significantly related to the shared ideas of the reference group to which an author belongs and/or for which he writes. Therefore, a thorough analysis of the structure and content of the collection reveals something about the author’s very reference group and its shared ideas. Putting their contributions in the light of previous works, authors usually choose a strategy of knowledge specialization or knowledge brokerage to develop innovative moments in their work. Consequently, a comprehensive study of scholarly pieces needs to contextualize both the social context of the author and the intellectual references he makes.
In this paper, the focus shall lie on the buldāniyyāt of Šams ad-Dīn Muḥammad as-Saḫāwī (d. 902/1496). In a first step, his collection will be compared with preceding written buldāniyyāt to identify the knowledge specialization and knowledge brokerage processes that make his collection innovative in the context of the text group of the buldāniyya. In a second step, an analysis of as-Saḫāwī’s social and intellectual context, represented through horizontal and vertical intellectual and social ties, reveals that the concrete structure and content of his collection is also influenced by the shared ideas of his reference group.

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The study that follows analyzes three examples from Islamic purity law (ṭahāra) as they evolve across four consecutive generations of substantive law (furūʿ) texts with the aim of understanding how the antipodal processes of šarḥ (expansion/commentary) and iḫtiṣār (abridgement) affect the substance of a legal tradition. Owing to their significance in the development and reception of the later Šāfiʿī maḏhab, the furūʿ works of the Mamlūk scholar and judge Zakariyyā al-Anṣārī (d. 926/1520) form the crux of the analysis here. Before examining specific passages from these works and their precursors, the study begins with an overview of al-Anṣārī’s position in the Šāfiʿī maḏhab, the idiosyncrasies of his legal prose, his major works in Šāfiʿī furūʿ, and their genealogical relationship to earlier texts in the tradition. In light of the textual examples presented, it concludes with a summary of the variables that influence a commentator’s control over the textual tradition at hand.

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In 887/1482, two Damascene Ḥanbalī judges, Nāṣir ad-Dīn Muḥammad b. Zurayq (d. 900/1495) and Naǧm ad-Dīn ʿUmar b. Mufliḥ (d. 919/1513), stood accused of confiscation of waqf property and were summoned to Cairo to be interrogated and investigated by Sultan Qāʾitbāy. In this article I investigate this incidence of waqf manipulation, the lives of the accused parties after this event, and the ways in which later biographers, particularly Ibn Zurayq’s favorite student Šams ad-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Ṭūlūn (d. 953/1546) and Ibn Mufliḥ’s grandson Akmal ad-Dīn b. Mufliḥ (d. 1011/1603), sought to reframe the event and, thereby, the legacy of the participants.

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This paper is part of a larger project that will attempt to reconstruct the socio-economic dimensions of Damascus at the end of the Mamluk period, and which is primarily based on Ibn Ṭawq’s diary. The paper summarizes the author’s earlier study of divorce in Damascus life and focuses on marriages and bonds with female slaves and concubines. It argues that while, generally speaking, Damascus men were monogamous, quite a number owned slaves and concubines who mothered children. The paper illustrates these general conclusions by references to pertinent examples that Ibn Ṭawq provides.

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The Maryut Basin was famous in antiquity for its freshwater lake and brisk economic activity. The basin was later infamous as a saltmarsh in the Ottoman period. In between (from the Islamic Conquest - 640 CE – to the end of the Mamluk period – 1517) – the basin it is said to have been a neglected brackish lake where freshwater from the few remaining irrigation canals from antiquity did battle with seawater from the Mediterranean. This article will argue that irrigation system development (1170-1315) may have allowed for farming (summer cropping in particular) of the south-east half of the Maryut Basin. The hypothesis is therefore that: the south-east section of the Maryut Basin and the lands bordering the basin, were part of a thriving and growing agricultural economy in the 1170-1315 period.

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This article reexamines wages in Egypt using new evidence not analyzed in my previous study of the late Mamluk economy (Borsch, The Black Death in Egypt and England, 2005). The results show that wages for unskilled labor fell precipitously from the 1300s to the 1400s and stayed at a very low level thereafter. Shown in the figure below are the primary quantitative results from approximately 300 wage listings from the late thirteenth century to the late seventeenth century.

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Al-Bīmāristān al-Manṣūrī (the Manṣūrī hospital), founded by the sultan al-Manṣūr Sayf ad-Dīn Qalāwūn (r. 678-689/1279-1290) at a moment of cultural shift, is both the object of this study and a lens through which to view the links between medicine, politics and culture in Mamluk Egypt and Syria. The exploratory research described here is intended to result in a history of this hospital that will cast light on aspects of the intellectual history of the Mamluk period that, despite several recent groundbreaking studies, still remains largely unknown and underappreciated. Two approaches have been used: 1) source analysis with primary focus on two documents, the diplomas for the riyāsat aṭ-ṭibb (chief physicianship in Egypt and Syria) and the tadrīs al-bīmāristān (chair of medicine at the hospital) examined with respect to their structure and three themes (ǧihād, ʿilm, and medical education) and 2) network analysis focusing on individuals who had some affiliation to the hospital whether as founder, later donor, physician, administrator, student, or patient. Although we have barely scratched the surface here, the paths followed seem promising as strategies to arrive at more than a descriptive history of the hospital and to provide insights into the role of the hospital within the context of the medicine, politics and wider intellectual currents and culture of the period. The textual analysis of two diplomas of appointment indicates that in addition to other possible purposes, the hospital was intended both to elevate the status of medicine as a discipline by rendering this foreign science less controversial in the Islamic context by demonstrating that medicine (ʿilm al-abdān) was integral to the religious sciences (ʿilm al-adyān) and ultimately to advance the Islamization of the medical profession. The analysis of networks of individuals with affiliations of various kinds to the hospital promises to yield insights into the links between medicine and power within the context of the wider cultural and intellectual environment. To date, this type of analysis also shows that despite the ǧihādī, exclusionary language and intentions of the documents at the formal level, actual relationships and networks at the time of the founding of the hospital were in fact more inclusive at the informal level at least at the beginning of the Mamluk era. This exploratory research opens new paths for studying the history of Mamluk society and intellectual history while raising more questions than it answers, such as, most basically, what role the hospital played in these developments?

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There is a considerable body of literature today on urban space in Mamluk studies. This is in large part due to the nature and survival of the textual sources, which reflect an urban bias and are preserved in city archives. Architectural studies of Mamluk cities also abound, as many monuments and even entire neighborhoods of the period have been preserved in the urban fabric of modern Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo, and Jerusalem. The same cannot be said, however, about the rural lands under Mamluk rule - namely settlements of village and sub-village size – about which we know precious little. While textual sources, and particularly documentary ones, can produce some information about rural life, if they are carefully mined, it is the archaeological record that offers us the greatest promise for reconstructing the physical structure of rural settlements, their function(s) and development over time, and details of the lives of the people who lived there. The focus of the 2013 excavation season at Tall Hisban, co-sponsored by the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of the University of Bonn, was to investigate the settlement associated with the Mamluk citadel and to explore the many factors that may have contribute to its growth, decline, and transformation over time.

The following essay is a preliminary, non-technical assessment of that fieldwork, highlighting the most important results relevant to a study of Mamluk-era rural life and raising important questions about changing relations between state and village in the seventh/ fourteenth century.

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The present brief contribution aims to shed light on a particular source, namely on official reports about natural disasters. These documents, known as maḥḍar (pl. maḥāḍir), were recorded by an inspector or an inspection team, following a severe event. They are a potential source for the study of Mamluk historical geography and have not been adequately studied until now.


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The present paper evolved from a historical-legal research project. While searching for information about properties in Hebron (al-Ḫalīl), which the offspring of the ṣaḥābī Tamīm al-Dārī claimed, I stumbled upon a popular story. In this story Tamīm is portrayed as a hero who has been kidnapped by ǧinns and endured ordeals and adventures on remote islands. The aim of this paper is to shed light on the text and its reception by the Mamluk society. Inter alia, I will describe the audiences, and will try to elucidate the supposed connections between Tamīm the historical character and Tamīm the literary hero.
Since there is slight positive evidence to indicate that this text is “Mamluk,” one may ask why my talk is about a “sīra šaʿbiyya” in the Mamluk environment? What makes it “Mamluk”? What is Mamluk in the story? My answer is based primarily upon circumstantial evidence, and I will return to it at the closing section of this paper.


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The economic and cultural rise of parts of the ʿāmma due to the particular economic and infrastructural conditions of the Mamluk era fostered the emergence of new intermediate levels of literature that were situated between the literature of the elite and that of the utterly ignorant and unlettered populace, between the Arabic koiné (al-ʿarabiyya al-fuṣḥā) and the local dialects (ʿāmmiyya-s), between written and oral composition, performance and transmission. The following paper proposes to analyze the composition of three Mamluk adab-encyclopedias and their treatment of poverty and wealth in light of the social milieus of their authors and publics.


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Burhān al-Dīn Ibrāhīm al-Biqāʿī’s ego-document is at the heart of the present paper. The author provides a rich account of Mamluk military operations in Cyprus and al-Qashtīl al-Rūj (Château Roux/Kastelorizo/Castellorizo) Island. It is not an impartial or “objective” story, but rather an observer-participant report of a naval expedition by a well-known administrator and writer. The detailed text reflects the author’s self-presentation and interpretation of events and deeds. It casts light on historiography under the Mamluks, as well as on the history of the Eastern Mediterranean in the 15th century.

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The Mamluk Sultanate has been considered as the arena in which the "Mamluk principles" were expressed most clearly. According to the prevalent view among modern scholars, in the Mamluk Sultanate dynastic and hereditary tendencies were rather weak. Generally, students of the Mamluk Sultanate tend to underestimate the importance of relationships based on blood ties, marital ties and ethnic solidarity. Instead, they emphasize the importance of mamlūk connections.

It is here argued, that throughout the entire period of the Mamluk Sultanate blood ties, marital ties and ethnic solidarity were more important than it is commonly believed. Notwithstanding this, significant changes in patterns of social ties are noticeable after the transition to the Circassian period. Only then a considerable decline of the social and political importance of the nuclear family occurred, and mamlūk ties became increasingly significant. This change led to an erosion of the dynastic and hereditary practices. This change did not arise from the alleged principle that non-mamlūks were unfit for holding key positions. It was rather the result of circumstances unique of the Circassian period.

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The study compares the profiles of judges (qāḍīs), deputy qadis (nāʾibs), and the personnel of the courts in Damascus mainly in the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Although both the Mamluks and the Ottomans were committed to the Sharīʿah law, their legal and administrative practices and policies were quite different. This was the result of the obvious political realities and the status of Damascus within the Mamluk and the Ottoman states. Damascus in the transition period is a good test case, owing to the many excellent sources in sixteenth century Damascus, that were even richer than the sources of Cairo during the same period. The involvement of the qadis with the local population under both rules and their relations with the center (Cairo and then Istanbul) are recorded in the chronicles, biographical dictionaries and other literary and documentary sources of Damascus. The social and cultural differences between the local (Arabic speaking) qadis and the Turkish speaking nominees from Istanbul call for an extensive comparative study.

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This paper deals with the question how one occupant of 15th-century Damascus perceived his hometown and how he transferred this perception into writing. The key witness in this endeavour is the notary Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad b. Muḥammad, known as Ibn Ṭawq (834-915/1443-1510). He amassed a lengthy account encompassing several decades of his life. As Li Guo stated in a recent review article: “It is evident that the author’s motivation and impulse for writing the diary lay in his consummate interest in the wellbeing of himself, his community […], and his place: Damascus and its suburbs.” But is this really his place? Is it restricted to the city and the suburbs?

In this paper, the author aims to address the question of whether 15th-century Damascenes made a distinction between the city and the countryside. This question will be approached from two directions. Firstly, does the author describe the rural geography differently from the urban one? Does he make a distinction between a physical entity of the city and its surroundings? And secondly, does he single out any groups as alien or different because of their rural background?


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The present paper is an attempt to define the ways in which the process of radicalization of Islam influenced the medical culture of Egypt and Syria under the Mamluks. Both the transformation of medical culture and the impact of this transformation on medical theory and practice are discussed, above all, in the context of the inter-faith antagonism. The work is in progress, so some of the interpretations are of preliminary character and require further investigation.

As an area of research, the microcosm of non-Muslim physicians living and working in the Mamluk state is rather capacious and non-uniform. As such, it can be approached from a number of perspectives. On the most obvious level, the subject belongs, on the one hand, to the social history of medicine; on the other, it forms a part of the history of inter-communal and inter-faith antagonisms. The present study aims at investigating the area where medical culture and inter-communal conflict overlapped. This area constitutes in fact a rather complex puzzle in which the issues of sickness and health were interwoven with ideology, politics, and propaganda based both on the “time-honored tradition” of blaming the doctor and the fear of (and animosity towards) the religious Other. In other words, this is interdisciplinary research, focused on the social aspects of medicine, inter-communal antagonism, and the interaction between them.

Approaching such a complex subject matter from just one of the possible perspectives would mean depriving it of its rich and multifaceted context. In order to make the study comprehensive, I have decided to apply a mode of inquiry which is sometimes used by historians of the Alltag, and which allows the scholar to combine many different instruments, including those that are typical for fields such as anthropology, sociology, or social psychology. This mode also makes it possible to make comparisons with other cultures.


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The Kolleg will provide an institutional center for a period of eight years for the 50-60 Mamluk scholars who are dispersed all over the globe. The concept emphasizes two issues: Firstly, the Kolleg members will provide long-lasting impulses for Mamluk Studies through their individual projects (a specific “Mamluk Studies” series, a Compendium on the History and Society of the Mamluk Era, an online bibliography, articles in the Mamluk Studies Review). In addition, the Speaker will, supported by a research professorship (“Annemarie-Schimmel-Chair for Mamluk Studies”), and in cooperation with four of his Bonn colleagues [Mathias Becher (Medieval History), Ralph Kauz (Sinology), Peter Schwieger (Tibetology), Reinhard Zöllner (Japanology)] integrate the Mamlukists by means of topic-oriented annual programs (1st Year: The Mamluk Empire in its “Global” Context , 2nd Year: Economic Areas of Interaction, 3rd Year: “Rule” in the Mamluk Empire - A Cross-cultural Comparison, 4th Year: Culture-specific Narrative Strategies in Mamluk Era Historiographical Sources) into interdisciplinary and innovative research topics. Young Arabic scholars will receive focused support within a group of scholarship recipients that will be integrated into the Kolleg.