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Into the Light-Worlds with Charles Häberl

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‘We cannot make the perfect the enemy of the good.’

In an extended interview, we probe scholarship, the Mandæans, and scholarship of the Mandæans, from a number of angles. This is an inspiring interview from my perspective: this is how it’s done, folks.

Topics discussed include:

• The story of ‘Abd al-Jabbar ‘Abdullah, a Mandæan theoretical physicist, the first Iraqi to graduate from MIT, and late President of the University of Baghdad, and an outline of the position of the Mandæans in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq,

• The mysterious Sabæans of the Qur’ān, and the evidence that the normal Iraqi opinion – to wit, that the Mandæans are the Sabæans – might actually be borne out by etymological and other evidence, which would make the Mandæans the original Sabæans (in what would prove to be a long and noble lineage of other Sabæans to come later),

• The Iranian Mandæan diaspora in the United States and beyond, the Mandæan diaspora more generally, and some discussion of differing tensions within the diaspora communities around the world as the Mandæans negotiate their first historical foray out of Mesopotamia,

• Some of the dynamics of working as a philologist, but one studying the texts and beliefs of a living tradition which talks back to you and answers questions (and maybe gives uncomfortable answers some of the time), and

• The question of Mandæan esotericism.

Interview Bio:

Charles G. Häberl is Professor of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures and Religion at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.

Works Cited in this Episode:

J.J. Buckley. The Great Stem of Souls. Gorgias Press, Piscataway, NJ, 2010.

E.S. Drower. Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1937.

J.H. Petermann. Reisen im Orient, vol. 2. van Veit, Leipzig, 1861.

N. Siouffi. Études sur la religion des Soubbas ou Sabéens. Imprimerie nationale, Paris, 1880.

Kevin T. van Bladel. From Sasanian Mandaeans to Sābians of the Marshes. Brill, Leiden/Boston, MA, 2017.