The perception of Badakhshan as a remote and “peripheral region” in the Islamic world has marginalized the study of Ismailism and the peoples of the Badakhshan region within the scholarship on Islamic Central Asia. We know little about the historical development of the Ismaili community in Badakhshan, or about the construction of confessional traditions and the institutionalization of Ismaili religious authority, as the existing evidence in the form of Persia documents and manuscripts remains largely inaccessible as historical sources. Yet pirs and khalifas from Tajikistan and Afghanistan maintained a Persianate documentary and literary tradition rich with untapped insight.
Led by Dr. Jo-Ann Gross and supported with a three-year National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Grant, this project is centered on preserving and digitizing roughly 60 original, privately held genealogical histories (nasab-namahs) from Badakhshan from the 16th - 20th centuries. Using an archive of photographs compiled during Dr. Gross' 2004-2018 field research in the region, it is the first effort to study the history of genealogical documentation in the Ismaili community as a source for local knowledge of the Ismaili tradition of Badakhshan. This groundbreaking work highlights a local documentation culture that captured the genealogically based sanctity and sayyid pedigree among familial communities of shahs, pirs and khalifas.
Approach and Objectives
This project brings a humanities perspective to the study of knowledge production in the context of genealogical history. It is one of the first efforts to systematically collect and interpret primary data from both Afghan and Tajik Badakhshan, with a view towards understanding their historical and social connections. The goal is to render this corpus of Persian-language texts legible as historical sources by:
- Digitizing them and identifying their features.
- Defining local genres of genealogy and document production.
- Analyzing them as a source for local knowledge of the Ismaili tradition.
Results will include a co-authored book, due in 2020, and an open-access digital repository at Princeton University Library. This will be the first corpus of Ismaili documents from Badakhshan available online in transcription and English translation.
2017-2020: National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Award, “Ismailism in Badakhshan: A Genealogical and Documentary History.”
Presentations“Sayyid Genealogy, Narrative Tradition and the Sacred Landscape in Badakhshan"
Brown Bag Lunch Series
Dec. 14, 2015
- The Department and Program in Near Eastern Studies
- The Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies
- Panel: “Knowledge Production and the Genealogical Traditions of Badakhshan,” Biennial Convention of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies, Tsereteli Institute of Oriental Studies at Ilia State University, March 16, 2018 (YouTube)
- Keynote Address: “Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Sacred Landscape and Genealogical History in Badakhshan,” Habib University, Karachi, Pakistan, December 15, 2018
- Lecture: “Perspectives on Genealogical History and the Production of Knowledge: The Isma'ilis of Badakhshan,” UCLA, April 17, 2017
- Panel: “Genealogical Documentary Practice: The Ismaili Family Archive and the Construction of Confessional Identity in Badakhshan,” Islamic Cultures of Documentation: Archives, Paperwork, and State Power in Eurasia Conference, University of Pittsburgh, May 23-24, 2017
- Panel: “Documentary Sources on Ismailism in Badakhshan: Genealogical History and Confessional Identity in Badakhshan,” Shii Studies: The State of the Art Conference, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, December 7-9, 2017
- Keynote Address: “Intentionality and Textuality in the Documentation and Preservation of Knowledge: Archival Voices in the Persianate World,” Persianate Cultures of Documentation (15th-20th Centuries), Institute of Iranian Studies, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna, Austria, June 24, 2016
- “Local Expressions of Ismāʿīlī Identity in 19th Century Badakhshān: Bahār-i Badakhshān of Sayyid ʿAbdal-Karīm Husaynī, Middle East Studies Association, Denver, Colorado, November 21-24, 2015