Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, History, Nazarbayev University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Indiana University / Bloomington
Sacred Narratives, Spiritual Authority, and Communal Identity among the Ismailis of Central Asia, 1500-1895

My dissertation will explore the history of the Ismailis of Central Asia, a minority community of Shia Muslims who live mostly in the Badakhshan province of Tajikistan. The project will investigate the development of religious authority and communal identity within this community from the sixteenth century down to the Russian conquest of the region in the late nineteenth century. I will examine a body of previously-unstudied literature produced among the Ismailis during this period, which consists of legendary and hagiographical accounts of founding figures of the community. Many of these texts have been known for some time now to Soviet scholars of the region but were dismissed as irrelevant due to their fantastical content. In my research I will approach these texts by drawing upon a series of innovative methodological approaches developed in recent years in studies of hagiographical and legendary biographical texts. In particular, recent research has demonstrated the capacity for hagiographical literature to illuminate important questions concerning social history, communal identity, and authority within the community in which such materials are produced. My goal is to determine what these texts may tell us about developing notions of authority and communal identity among the Ismailis during the period of their production and circulation. My research will draw upon a number of manuscript sources located in archives in Central Asia and Europe. Both the history of the Ismaili community of Central Asia in particular and the period of this study in general remained poorly understood. My study will offer a unique contribution towards a better understanding of the history of Islam in the region and the role of local communities in the formation of a pluralistic Islamic society in Central Asia and beyond.