Jonathan Brack

Jonathan Brack

Jonathan Brack

Religious Studies

Medieval and Early Modern Iran
The Mongol Empire


 Current Projects:

My research lies at the intersection of inter-religious polemics and exchange, conversion, and sacral kingship in late medieval and early modern Iran and Islamic Eurasia. My dissertation examined how Muslim perceptions of sacred kingship were shaped through cross-cultural exchanges at the Mongol courts in late medieval Iran. In my book manuscript, An Afterlife for the Khan: Chinggis Khan’s Heaven and the Eurasian Cultures of Disputation, I venture further into the formation of a new discursive realm of Islamic sacral kingship by exploring the lively scene of interfaith debate and dialogue at the Mongol courts in 13th-14th-centuries Iran within a wider, cross-Eurasian, comparative perspective. Through the remarkable corpus of the Jewish convert to Islam and Persian-speaking vizier, historian, physician, and court debater, Rashid al-Din (d. 1318), I demonstrate how the competitive environment of inter-religious exchanges, between the representatives of Islam, Buddhism, and the Inner Asian religious traditions, became the bedrock for experimentations with a new synthesis of Muslim-Mongol sacral kingship. I show how the legacies of the inter-Eurasian encounters under the medieval Mongols contributed to fashioning new models of universal emperorship that went on to inform empire-building projects throughout early-modern Asia.

My interest in the mechanisms that facilitate cross-cultural commensurability, and especially its limits, in pre-modern Eurasia also drives another project I am currently undertaking. This is a translation Rashid al-Din’s extensive introduction to the “Treasure book,” the Tanksuq namah, a Persian translation and commentary on Chinese medical treatises largely dealing with pulse diagnosis and sphygmology. I am interested in exploring how the medieval vizier formed his relativistic theories about the universality of knowledge, revelation, and language, and his conceptions about the ability and limits of “translation” to mediate impassable cultural boundaries. I envision this project as part of a broader, collaborative effort to explore the transfer and reception of knowledge about the East in the Islamic world. 

Curriculum Vitae 

Fellowships and Grants 

  • 2016: Mandel-Scholion Postdoctoral Fellow Finalist (Waitlisted)

  • Post-doctoral Studies: 2016-2017: ERC project “Mobility, Empire and Cross Cultural Contacts in Mongol Eurasia,” Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

  • 2012-2015: Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fellowship 


  • 2016: Honorable Mention, Dissertation Award, The Foundation for Iranian Studies    


  • 2016:  PhD, The University of Michigan, Department of History  

  • 2010:  MA, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel), Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies (Magna Cum Laude)

  • 2007:  BA, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies and Honors Program in History (Summa Cum Laude) 


Edited books:

  • Along the Mongol Silk Roads: Merchants, Generals, Intellectuals (edited volume). Co-edited with Michal Biran and Francesca Fiaschetti. Forthcoming with University of California Press.

Peer-reviewed articles:

  • 2018: “Theologies of Auspicious Kingship: The Islamization of Chinggisid Sacral Kingship in the Islamic world,” Comparative Studies in Society and History (October 2018); 60(4):1143-71.

  • 2016: “Was Ede Bali a Wafāʾī Shaykh? Sufis, Sayyids and genealogical creativity in the early Ottoman world,” in Islamic Literature and Intellectual Life in Fourteenth and Fifteenth-Century Anatolia, edited by Andrew Peacock and Sara Nur Yildiz (Würzburg: Ergon Verlag), 333-60.

  • 2011: “A Mongol princess making hajj: the biography of El Qutlugh daughter of Abagha Ilkhan (r. 1265-82),” Journal of Royal Asiatic Society (JRAS), Series 3, 21, 3: 331-59.

  • “A Mongol Mahdi in medieval Anatolia: Reform, Rebellion, and Divine Right in the post-Mongol Islamic world,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 

  • “Rashīd al-Dīn: Buddhism in Iran and the Mongol Silk Roads,” in Along the Mongol Silk Roads: Merchants, Generals, Intellectuals (Forthcoming).


  • 2019:    “Buddhist Relics, Fireproof Muslim Saints, Sacral Mongol Kings: Inter-Faith Court Debates and Conversion to Islam at the Mongol Court in 14th-century Iran,” Nomadic Empires seminar, University of Oxford.

  • 2018:    “Jews and Shi’is in medieval Baghdad and the Ilkhanid Court,” An International Workshop on the Jews of Iran: Society, Culture and Politics through the Ages, Tel Aviv University.

  • 2018:    “Arguing without Scripture: Comparing notes between William of Rubruck and Rashid al-Din on Buddhism at the Mongol courts,” China and the Middle East: Historical Connections and Comparisons Along and Beyond the Silk Roads, Tel Aviv University. 

  • 2018:    “Debating Heaven, Arguing over Hell: Muslim-Buddhist Polemics in 14th-century Mongol-ruled Iran,” The Majlis Revisited, Cordoba, Spain. 

  • 2017:    “The Khan’s Court Debate or the Muslim Majlis? On the migration and integration of a Mongol institution in Ilkhanid Iran,” Migrations in Mongol Eurasia: People, Ideas, Artifacts, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 

  • 2017:    “Philosopher Kings in the age of Chinggisid Auspicious Kingship: a Mongol Sahibqiran and his Mujaddid vizier,” MESA, Washington DC. 

  • 2017:    “Avenging Karbala in Mamluk Damascus? ‘Alid Loyalism in the Mongol Conquest of Syria (1299-1300),” Mongol Warfare between Steppe and Sown: Military and Cultural Perspectives, Sofia, Bulgaria.