Daniel Beben (Indiana University Bloomington) – ‘Islamization on the Iranian Periphery: Nasir-i Khusraw and Ismailism in Badakhshan’.
EVENT: Islamisation: Comparative perspectives from History – Panel 7 – Iran and Central Asia
DATE: 20-21 March 2015
VENUE: University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK
via 2015: International Conference | The Islamisation of Anatolia project
Daniel Beben won a Social Sciences Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship and an American Councils Advanced Research Fellowship to conduct dissertation research in the post-Soviet republic of Tajikistan in the 2012-13 academic year.
Daniel’s research focuses on the religious and social history of Central Asia in the early-modern era. His dissertation explores the history and hagiographical literature of the Ismaili Shia Muslim community of the Badakhshan district of eastern Tajikistan. This community traces its foundation to the renowned Persian poet and philosopher Nasir-i Khusraw, who is held to have converted the region to the Ismaili sect of Shia Islam in the eleventh century. While sources written in the following four centuries provide only brief and sporadic references to Nasir-i Khusraw, there emerged suddenly in the late fifteenth century in Central Asia a flourishing tradition of biographical and hagiographical writing concerning this figure, a tradition which has continued down to the present day. Furthermore, this literature was not confined only to one particular sectarian tradition, but rather was produced within a number of religious communities in the region, reflecting widespread competition among various constituencies seeking to claim attachment to the legacy of Nasir-i Khusraw.
Due to their hagiographical character these textual traditions were largely ignored within Soviet scholarship, which dominated the study of the Central Asia region for most of the twentieth century. Daniel’s research draws primarily upon unpublished manuscript sources produced from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century held in both public and private archives. His research suggests that this corpus, while perhaps bearing little relation to the “historical” Nasir-i Khusraw, provides an important window into the histories and worldviews of the various communities in which they were produced. Hence, it offers a critical source base for the social history of early-modern Central Asia, a topic which to date remains widely neglected in current scholarship on the region.