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Department of History


Matthew Melvin-Koushki

Title: Associate Professor
Peter and Bonnie McCausland Fellow of History
Department: History
College of Arts and Sciences
Phone: 803-777-2905
Office: Gambrell, Room 211
Resources: Curriculum Vitae
Matthew Melvin-Koushki


  • M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D. Yale University
  • B.A. University of Virginia

Research Interests:

Decolonial History of Science and Empire, Occult Sciences, Early Modern Persianate World, Persian Pythagoreanism, Occult Humanism, the Islamic Weird

Graduate Supervision

Now accepting applications for our new MA and PhD focus in Magic and Occult Science! Islamic, Jewish, Mediterranean, African, South Asian, European, Southern and public history are particular faculty strengths, but any relevant project in the history of philosophy, science, technology and/or religion globally is welcome. Current student projects range from kabbalah and tarot to shamanism and Southern conjure, and from antiquity to the present.

Both the two-year MA program and the six-year PhD program (in-residence only) provide stipend and tuition abatement through TAships. Prospective applicants must hold a BA in history or other humanities discipline; select the STE field to apply.

Biography and Current Activities

Matthew Melvin-Koushkiis Associate Professor of Islamic History at the University of South Carolina. He specializes in early modern Islamicate intellectual and imperial history, with a focus on the theory and practice of the occult sciences in Timurid-Safavid Iran and the wider Persianate world to the nineteenth century. His forthcoming books include The Lettrist Treatises of Ibn Turka: Persian Pythagoreanism and Occult Imperialism in the Timurid Renaissance and The Occult Science of Empire in Aqquyunlu-Safavid Iran: Two Shirazi Lettrists and Their Manuals of Magic, and he is co-editor of the volumes Islamicate Occultism: New Perspectives (2017) and Islamicate Occult Sciences in Theory and Practice (2021). President of Societas Magica and Associate Editor of Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft, he is also cofounder of the international working group Islamic Occult Studies on the Rise (IOSOTR), at, which showcases the newest work in this now burgeoning interdisciplinary field. 

His field-building labors aside, Melvin-Koushki’s 45 published or forthcoming articles and review essays (as of 2023) range widely temporally, geographically and disciplinarily, from Ilkhanid Iran, Mamluk Egypt and Ottoman Anatolia to Mughal India, Qajar Iran and Manghit Transoxania, and from history of philosophy, science and technology and imperial historiography to literary, visual and architectural theory and history of the book. Taken together, this corpus constitutes a new analytical framework for the study of early modern Persianate societies specifically and Western early modernities generally—one that retrieves Islamic Magic as ultimate stumblingblock and hence weapon and pharmakon against the violently colonialist yet still endemic story of the Rise of the West.

Spanning fully two-thirds of the human race by the sixteenth century, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, the Islamic world was committed to Western, Neoplatonic-Neopythagorean cosmology as philosophical-imperial technology to a degree unparalleled by the much smaller and rabidly insular Latin Christian Far West, as Melvin-Koushki has shown. Yet the latter remains hegemonic in the radically disproportionate, eurocentric, orientalist and occultophobic historiography of early modern science, teleological touchstone for all other human (and nonhuman) ways of knowing and doing in the world. To break this colonialist curse, he has found several counterspells to be especially effective: Magic and the Weird, Persian Pythagoreanism and the Occult-Scientific Revolution, Occult Humanism and Islam-as-the-Greater-West, Cosmic Philology and the Superhumanities.

His favorite occult sciences are geomancy and lettrism, kabbalah’s twin. Indelibly Afro-Islamic, they are ideal decolonial windows onto early modern Pythagorean-Platonic mathesis, the new-old cosmology positing the world as a second mathematical Book to be decoded, then magically recoded, by the enterprising information scientist: the grimoire as grammar of being and becoming. Perniciously if predictably, this mathematization of the cosmos continues to be reduced in modern historiography to the basis of the “Scientific Revolution”—mother of all Kuhnian paradigm shifts—as an exclusively Latin Christian affair. Yet it began not in western Europe but in the far vaster, wealthier and more cosmopolitan Persianate world, culturally equally the West, where it helped spark other, more gorgeously revolutionary transformations in everything from imperial architecture and ideology to astrophysics and computing; its exponents occupied the same sociopolitical niche that Silicon Valley does today—and were even more devoted to entheogenic transhumanism. Hence the catchphrase running like a red thread throughout Melvin-Koushki’s larger project: Islam is Magic; Magic is Science; Science is Empire.

He offers independent studies as part of the Magic and Occult Science graduate focus, and regularly teaches the following undergraduate and graduate courses:

  • HIST 104: Introduction to Islamic Civilization
  • HIST 108: Science and Technology in Western History
  • HIST 300: The Historian’s Craft
  • HIST 387: Messiahs, Mystics and Rebels in the Islamic World
  • HIST 388: Kabbalah: Science, Religion and Nature in Western History (with Andrew Berns)
  • HIST 389/599: Science, Magic and Religion
  • HIST 498: Sorcery and Society
  • HIST 700: Magic and Modernity

Selected Publications

All his published work is available here. Recent edited volumes, articles and essays include:

Islamicate Occult Sciences in Theory and Practice, ed. with Liana Saif, Francesca Leoni and Farouk Yahya, Handbook of Oriental Studies Vol. 140 (Leiden: Brill, 2021)

Islamicate Occultism: New Perspectives, ed. with Noah Gardiner, special double issue of Arabica 64, nos. 3-4 (2017): 287-693

Routledge Handbook on the Sciences in Islamicate Societies: Practices from the 2nd/8th to the 13th/19th Centuries, ed. Sonja Brentjes, associate ed. Matthew Melvin-Koushki et al. (New York: Routledge, 2023)

“The New Brethren of Purity: Ibn Turka and the Renaissance of Pythagoreanism in the Early Modern Persian Cosmopolis,” Intellectual History of the Islamicate World 11, no. 2 (2023), forthcoming

“An Islamic Scientific Revolution? Early Modern Occult Science, Cosmic Philology and the Weird,” special roundtable issue, ed. Justin Stearns and Nahyan Fancy, History of Science 61, no. 2 (2023): 166-72

“Lettrism, Astrology and Jazz Philosophy in Ibn ʿArabī’s Allusions of the Quran in the World of Man,” Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ʿArabi Society 73 (2023): 53-75

“Qizilbash Magic: An Edition of ʿAli Safi b. Husayn Vaʿiz Kashifi’s Boon for Majd al-Din, Exemplar of Timurid-Safavid Sunni-Shiʿi Occultism,” Iran Namag 6, no. 3-4 (2021 [2023]): 282-326

“Being with a Capital B: Ibn Turka on Ibn ʿArabī’s Lettrist Cosmogony,” in Islamic Thought and the Art of Translation: Texts and Studies in Honor of William C. Chittick and Sachiko Murata, ed. Mohammed Rustom (Leiden: Brill, 2023), 150-77

“Another Scientific Revolution: The Occult Sciences in Theory and Experimentalist Practice,” in Routledge Handbook on the Sciences in Islamicate Societies: Practices from the 2nd/8th to the 13th/19th Centuries, ed. Sonja Brentjes (New York: Routledge, 2023), 328-39

“Occult Ecumenism: Maḥmūd Dihdār Shīrāzī’s Unveiling Secrets as Exemplar of Timurid-Safavid Sunni-Shiʿi Science,” Iranian Studies 55, nos. 5-6 (2022): 1-31

“Better than Sufi Sex: Ibn Turka on the Superiority of Lettrism to Sufism as Model of Occult Islamic Humanism,” in Islam ed esoterismo/Islam and Esotericism, ed. Michele Olzi and Lisa Pizzighella, special issue of La Rosa di Paracelso no. 2 (2020 [2022]): 53-80

“Shaykhi Prayer as Safavid-Qajar Occult Technology,” English introduction to Muṣṭafā b. Muḥammad Hādī Khūʾī (d. 1839), Hidden Gems and Treasured Pearls (Javāhir-i maknūna u laʾālī-yi makhzūna), ed. Alireza Asghari and Muhammad Abdullahiyan (Leiden: The Islamic Manuscripts Press, 2022), 5-31

“Dr. Dee’s Ottoman Adventure,” Hellebore no. 6 (Samhain 2021): 70-79

Magic helped us in pandemics before, and it can again,” Psyche, 26 May 2021

“The Occult Sciences in Safavid Iran and Safavid Occult Scientists Abroad,” in The Safavid World, ed. Rudi Matthee (New York: Routledge, 2021), 403-27

“Toward a Neopythagorean Historiography: Kemālpaşazāde’s (d. 1534) Lettrist Call for the Conquest of Cairo and the Development of Ottoman Occult-Scientific Imperialism,” in Islamic Occult Sciences in Theory and Practice, ed. Liana Saif, Francesca Leoni, Matthew Melvin-Koushki and Farouk Yahya (Leiden: Brill, 2021), 380-419

“Divining Past, Present and Future in the Sand: A Persian-Turkish-Arabic Geomantic Miscellany, ca. Sixteenth Century,” in The Ottoman World: A Cultural History Reader, 1400-1700, ed. Hakan T. Karateke and Helga Anetshofer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2021), 244-53

“Is (Islamic) Occult Science Science?” Theology and Science 18, no. 2 (2020): 303-24

“Taşköprīzāde on the (Occult) Science of Plague Prevention and Cure,” Nazariyat: Journal for the History of Islamic Philosophy and Sciences 6, no. 2 (2020): 133-68

“Magic in Islam between Protestantism and Demonology: A Response to Günther and Pielow’s Response,” Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 15, no. 1 (2020): 132-39

“Magic in Islam between Religion and Science,” review essay on Sebastian Günther and Dorothee Pielow, eds., Die Geheimnisse der oberen und der unteren Welt: Magie im Islam zwischen Glaube und Wissenschaft (Leiden: Brill, 2019), in Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 14, no. 2 (2019): 255-87

“World as (Arabic) Text: Mīr Dāmād and the Neopythagoreanization of Philosophy in Safavid Iran,” Studia Islamica 114, no. 3 (2019): 378-431

“Imperial Talismanic Love: Ibn Turka’s Debate of Feast and Fight (1426) as Philosophical Romance and Lettrist Mirror for Timurid Princes,” Der Islam 96, no. 1 (2019): 42-86

“Pseudo-Shaykh Bahāʾī on the Supreme Name, a Safavid-Qajar Lettrist Classic,” in Light upon Light: Essays in Islamic Thought and History in Honor of Gerhard Bowering, ed. Jamal J. Elias and Bilal Orfali (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 256-90

“Early Modern Islamicate Empire: New Forms of Religiopolitical Legitimacy,” in The Wiley-Blackwell History of Islam, ed. Armando Salvatore, Roberto Tottoli, Babak Rahimi, M. Fariduddin Attar and Naznin Patel (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), 353-75

How to Rule the World: Occult-Scientific Manuals of the Early Modern Persian Cosmopolis,” Journal of Persianate Studies 11, no. 2 (2018): 140-54

“Persianate Geomancy from Ṭūsī to the Millennium: A Preliminary Survey,” in Occult Sciences in Pre-modern Islamic Cultures, ed. Nader El-Bizri and Eva Orthmann (Beirut: Orient-Institut Beirut, 2018), 151-99

Taḥqīq vs. Taqlīd in the Renaissances of Western Early Modernity,” review essay on Dag Nikolaus Hasse, Success and Suppression: Arabic Sciences and Philosophy in the Renaissance (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2016); and Sheldon Pollock, Benjamin A. Elman and Ku-ming Kevin Chang, eds., World Philology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015), in Philological Encounters 3, nos. 1-2 (2018): 193-249

“Powers of One: The Mathematicalization of the Occult Sciences in the High Persianate Tradition,” Intellectual History of the Islamicate World 5, no. 1 (2017): 127-99

“In Defense of Geomancy: Šaraf al-Dīn Yazdī Rebuts Ibn Ḫaldūn’s Critique of the Occult Sciences,” in Islamicate Occultism: New Perspectives, ed. Matthew Melvin-Koushki and Noah Gardiner, special double issue of Arabica 64, nos. 3-4 (2017): 346-403

“De-orienting the Study of Islamicate Occultism,” introduction to ibid., 287-95

“Of Islamic Grammatology: Ibn Turka’s Lettrist Metaphysics of Light,” al-ʿUṣūr al-Wusṭā: Journal of Middle East Medievalists 24 (2016): 42-113

“Mobilizing Magic: Occultism in Central Asia and the Continuity of High Persianate Culture under Russian Rule,” Studia Islamica 111, no. 2 (2016): 231-84 (co-author with James Pickett)

“Astrology, Lettrism, Geomancy: The Occult-Scientific Methods of Post-Mongol Islamicate Imperialism,” The Medieval History Journal 19, no. 1 (2016): 142-50

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