Imperial grimoires—that is, manuals on various forms of magic and divination written for or commissioned by royal readers—proliferated across the early modern Persianate world, more than paralleling the (decidedly non-imperial) grimoire boom in Renaissance Europe; but only the latter has been studied to date. This programmatic essay diagnoses the colonialist-Orientalist causes for this wild imbalance in comparative early modern Western intellectual and imperial historiography and outlines a philological way forward. Far from being evidence for “the superstition of the Moslem natives,” such manuals are an indispensable aperture onto precisely those processes—common to Islamdom and Christendom alike—by which we define Western early modernity: textualization, canonization, standardization, confessionalization, centralization, imperialization, bureaucratization, democratization, and mathematization. Yet they also record the religio-cultural and institutional divergences that so distinguish the Islamicate and especially Persianate experience of early modernity from the Latin Christianate.
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