Book talk: An Afterlife for the Khan: Muslims, Buddhists, and Sacred Kingship in Mongol Iran and Eurasia

Feb 12, 2024, 12:00 pm1:20 pm
202 Jones Hall
Free and open to the public


Event Description
Jonathan Brack

Jonathan Z. Brack (PhD, University of Michigan 2016) is a cultural and intellectual historian of the medieval and early modern Islamic world, focusing on the Persianate world and the Mongol Empire. He is an Assistant Professor at the Department of History, Northwestern University. Before coming to Northwestern, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a postdoctoral fellow at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.  

His research interests lie in the intersection of sacred kingship, religious exchanges, and conversion. His first book, An Afterlife for the Khan: Muslims, Buddhists, and Sacred Kingship in Mongol Iran and Eurasia, has been recently published by the University of California Press. He also coedited the volume Along the Silk Roads in Mongol Eurasia: Generals, Merchants, Intellectuals (University of California Press, 2020). His current projects include a study of the place of Judaism and Jews in premodern Persianate Islamic courts, and another explores the role of religion in the Mongol imperial project.  



An Afterlife for the Khan: Muslims, Buddhists, and Sacred Kingship in Mongol Iran and Eurasia (University of California Press, 2023) examines the formation of a new discursive realm of Islamic kingship by studying interfaith debates at the Mongol court in Iran (the Ilkhanate, 1260-1335). In the Mongol Empire, the interfaith court debate was an arena for the ideologically and religiously charged performance of the khan’s sacred kingship. To win over the Mongol rulers, religious contenders, primarily Muslims and Buddhists, had to do more than outperform their opponents and dispute rival truth claims. They needed to demonstrate how their own religious and cultural resources complemented and reaffirmed the Mongol rulers’ claims to sacred authority. Their real goal, however, was the conversion of their Mongol patrons and the transformation of their religious worldview. An Afterlife for the Khan explores the debates and polemical writings of the Persian vizier and Jewish convert to Islam Rashid al-Din (d. 1318), demonstrating how he drew both on his experiences with the Buddhist newcomers and on his in-depth knowledge of the Mongol tradition, to creatively experiment with new types of Islamic sacred sovereignty. On its broadest level, An Afterlife for the Khan is concerned with how religious agents persuaded rulers to relinquish their divinized claims for a more constrained, monotheist model of royal authority, and how immanentist kings found ways to hamper their efforts.

  • Department of Near Eastern Studies
  • Near Eastern Studies Program