Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts with University Honors


Philosophy & Religion


Gunasti, Susan


Islam, Iran, Medieval History, Sufism, Shi'ism, Safavids, Middle East, Religious History, Political History


The Safavid dynasty represented a major change in Iranian history, most notably for establishing Twelver Shi’ism as the majority and official religion, which continues to this day. The nature of their simultaneous transition from a Sufi religious order to a political movement and their rise to power is, however, a point of debate. Until the 21st century, the established historical narrative was one of a tyrannical, fanatical minority taking power and asserting its particular worldview on an unwilling majority. More recently, there have been increasingly diverse views among historians on the Safavid transition. This paper attempts to enter into the ongoing debate on the nature of the Safavid transition and rise to power, incorporating the perspectives of prominent voices in the debate into a new, holistic view that utilizes a Marxist, merger-based framework both to place the early Safavids in their material context and to work toward an explanation of their rise. The socio-economic situation in Iran under the Mongols and Timurids is briefly described, followed by descriptions of both Iranian Sufism and popular Islam in Iran. The Safavids were able to succeed and establish a stable state in Iran primarily through the merger of Sufi ideology and organizational structures with the Islam of the lower classes. This merger allowed for the creation of a mass base for the Safavids and the mobilization of that mass base toward political ends.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.