“Nadir Shah’s Peculiar Central Asian Legacy: Empire, Conversion Narratives, and the Rise of New Scholarly Dynasties,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 48, no. 3 (July 2016): 491-510.
Over the course of the 18th–early 20th centuries, a curious narrative emerged in Central Asia wherein the Turko-Persian monarch Nadir Shah Afshar was converted from Shiʿism to Sunnism by a group of Islamic scholars outside of Bukhara. While this legend was rooted in Nadir Shah's theological ambitions to bring Shiʿism back into the Sunni fold as a fifth school of canonical law, the memory of that event in the subsequent two centuries was intimately tied to the establishment of several scholarly dynasties, which managed to perpetuate themselves all the way to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. This article engages the memory of this mythological conversion to explore sharpening conceptions of sectarian divisions and the role of genealogy in projecting spiritual authority. Most broadly, it argues that—far from a passing depredation—the Afsharid Empire profoundly shaped the geopolitical and social landscape of Persianate Asia.