SSRC Pre-Dissertation Fellow Julian Gantt

Islamic Pious Endowments in Azerbaijan: A Case Study in the Transformation of Property Relations and Ethical Communities

Anthropology, City University of New York Graduate Center

Location of Research: Azerbaijan

Project Description
From its 1828 conquest by the Russian empire to the dismantling of the last collective farms in 1996, Azerbaijan has seen dramatic transformations of property relations over the last two hundred years. Less understood, however, are the ways in which specifically Islamic forms of property were remade in radically different political and economic circumstances. My project seeks to illuminate the history of one particular form of Islamic property common in pre-Soviet Azerbaijan – the pious endowment or waqf. Individuals founded waqfs by converting privately held land or other immovable property into perpetually inalienable endowments whose revenue supported either the founder’s family or communal institutions and infrastructure. While waqfs were officially abolished by the government of Soviet Azerbaijan in 1920, the extent to which they continued to operate as sources of locally controlled public revenue remains largely unstudied. By gathering archival and ethnographic data on waqf property in Azerbaijan, I hope to enrich our understanding of how Soviet socialism was actually lived by populations usually consigned to the margins of the Soviet experience.

Julian Gantt is a doctoral student in anthropology at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. A native of Harrisburg, PA, he received a bachelor’s degree with honors in history from Vassar College. In 2007-2008 he was a Fulbright grantee in Azerbaijan where his research focused on the built environment of turn-of-the-century Baku. He subsequently worked for two years as a union organizer in Denver and New York City. His current research focuses on the transformation of property regimes in the South Caucasus.

Policy Brief:
Implications of Shrines for Rural Development in Azerbaijan [.pdf, 117kb]
Policy Brief #2013-05