The Sufi As The Axis Of The World: Representations Of Religious Authority In The Works Of Ismail Hakki Bursevi (1653-1725)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Religious Studies
Islam on the Balkans
Ottoman intellectual history
History of Religion
Islamic Studies
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The present study examines the ways in which Ismail Hakki Bursevi (1653-1725) d(re)defines and deploys Islamic discursive practices and institutions to assert his religious authority as the most influential Sufi master in the Celveti order after its founder. Through a literary analysis of Bursevi’s autobiographical notes and dedicatory treatises (tuhfe) to Ottoman officials, I examine how he uses the institutions of the Sufi master (shaykh), order (tarīqa), and the Celestial Axis (quṭb) to argue for his superior status vis-á-vis other members of the Ottoman religious and learned elite. I speculate argue that the particulars of Hakki’s self-representation can be viewed as early indications of institutional anxiety and contested leadership within the Celveti Sufi order, which split into subbranches in the latter part of the eighteenth century. My study situates Bursevi’s writings in the larger literary landscape through a review of the existing scholarship on autobiography and advice literature (naṣīḥāt) in the Middle Eastern literary context. In doing so, I identify the challenges and opportunities that his works pose to such a genric classification. Having established the ways in which each of these types of writing lends itself to a discourse on spiritual legitimacy, I examine how in his self-narrative in the Tamāmu’l-feyz, Bursevi uses the institution of the master, and the notion of “death before dying”, to claim authority as the spiritual heir to the most important Celveti Sufi at the time. I contrast Bursevi’s self-representation in this treatise with his autobiographical note in the Silsilenāme-yi Celvetiye, a biohagiographical work of the Celveti order, which he composed as an established Celveti Sufi shaykh. In the latter, I argue, Bursevi deploys the institution of the Sufi order, and accounts of dreams and visions, as sources of the spiritual legitimacy he seeks to assert. I conclude with an analysis of how Bursevi’s claim to religious authority manifests in gift treatises he composed for Ottoman officials. By focusing on the author’s conceptualization of himself as an Axis (quṭb), the Sufi at the top of the spiritual hierarchy, I examine the broad social roles that Bursevi envisioned for Sufis as the pillars of Islamic orthodoxy and the integral part he envisioned for them in the historical legitimacy of the Ottoman state.

Jamal J. Elias
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