Disenchanting Heaven: Interfaith Debate, Sacral Kingship, and Conversion to Islam in the Mongol Empire, 1260-1335

Jonathan Brack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Historians examine the Mongol practice of holding interfaith court debates either with regard to the efforts of religious representatives to convert the khans, or as emblematic of the Mongols' religious pluralism. However, staging interfaith debates had other religious and political purposes as well. The debate was an arena for the religiously and ideologically charged performance of the Mongol khan's own divine-like wisdom and model of sacral, deified kingship. From the Mongol perspective, the objectives of the debate were not only different from those of its religious participants, but the debate further represented an altogether different mode of religiosity. Situating the debate in the context of the Mongol religious world view, this article proceeds to examine it in the Mongol court in medieval Iran (the Ilkhanate) shortly after its conversion to Islam. Muslim interlocutors there identified and exploited the Mongols' religious logic to reinforce the Mongol rulers' conversion. They transformed the debate into a forum for experimenting with a new synthesis of Mongol and Muslim, divinized and righteous, kingship. The continuous role of the debate in the performance of sacral monarchy among the Mongols' successors, especially the Mughals in early modern India, testifies to the enduring impact of Mongol religiosity on the Islamic world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-53
Number of pages43
JournalPast and Present
Issue number1
StatePublished - 4 Feb 2021


  • Conversion to Islam
  • Mongol Empire, 1206-1368
  • Iranian history, 1256-1500
  • Kings & rulers -- Religious aspects
  • Borjigid (Mongolian people)
  • Interfaith relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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