The Arabic term "ulama" is ubiquitous in most studies of Islam. The direct translation is relatively straightforward: "those who know." But who were the ulama, exactly? What were the contours of this social group, and what explains its endurance throughout the long run of history? This study focuses on Islamic scholars in Central Asia from the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries. It offers an expansive view of Islamic scholars, demonstrating that they were not only jurists (often the implicit definition of 'ulama'), but also mystics, occultists, poets, physicians, and calligraphers - all at the same time. The ulama stood as a single milieu that performed a wide range of social roles and mastered diverse forms of knowledge. This eclecticism set them apart both from both their forebears and their successors, and produced an efflorescence of Perso-Islamic culture on the eve of revolution.
Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Pittsburgh
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