Current Institutional Affiliation
Visiting Faculty, History, Institute of Business Administration Karachi

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2009
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Area and Cultural Studies, Harvard University
Abu'l Fazl: Creator of the Akbarian Idea

This dissertation project will be a detailed analysis of the thought of Abu'I Fazl 'Alla mi (1551-1602), private secretary and official chronicler of Akbar (1556-1605). Akbar (1556-1605), the consolidator of the Mug ha I Empire in India, has come to be remembered in modern history as "Akbar the Great" mainly for his formulation of a political ideology that enjoyed legitimacy on the basis of inter-faith tolerance and collaboration. Our only direct window onto Akbar, and, more importantly, the ideas associated with him, is Abu'I Fazl, who, I argue, is the original creator of the iconic Akbarian image of history. By reconstructing the intellectual input of Abu'I Fazl we can get to the wellspring of the Akbarian worldview. I am studying Abu'I Fazl as an independent thinker in order to discover exactly how his ideas and intellectual background enabled him to fashion a very particular and enduring image of Akbar as the perfect ruler. Though this image of Akbar has lived on, I contend that the image popular in modern times is only a partial reflection of Abu'I Fazl's "Akbarian Idea." Through a detailed examination and contextualization of Abu'I Fazl's writings, I will problematize this popular image, which is based on a widely held impression about both Akbar and Abu'I Fazl - that their common worldview represents a timeless rational humanism which is, practically speaking, areligious. My dissertation will trace a genealogy for the intellectual tools - the models, concepts and vocabulary - employed by Abu'I Fazl in creating the Akbarian weltanschauung to show that his ideas in fact emerged organically from the intellectual world of Medieval Islamdom and were as religious as they were anything else.