Universiteit Leiden

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Central Asia Initiative


The purpose of the initiative is to establish Central Asian Studies at Leiden University. Central Asia is a region with fluid borders stretching into present-day Afghanistan, Russia, China, Mongolia, Iran and the Caucasus; a premodern highway of global interaction and today increasingly important as a centre stage of geopolitical interests.

At present, Central Asia is marginally represented within the Faculty of Humanities (Area Studies, History, Linguistics) and the Faculty of Social Sciences (Political Sciences). Although individual researchers work on Central Asia, the region as a whole is largely absent from BA and MA teaching. Furthermore, only few researchers have structural academic embedding within the Leiden institutes despite the fact that Leiden offers a unique environment for Central Asian research and education since major languages and disciplines relevant to Central Asia are being taught here. Within the Leiden Institute for Area Studies, the study of Central Asia is important as it embodies a now ‘missing link’ between Asian Studies and Middle Eastern Studies in both a historical and a contemporary perspective. 

Throughout two years (Feb 2015-Dec 2018), the project will create a platform for the study of Central Asia in its broadest sense, by uniting and consolidating existing expertise and initiating new international collaboration resulting in joint applications for research funding. Key issues are cultural space, identity formation, geopolitics and heritage. As part of the project a coordinating post-doc position was created, new course modules on Central Asia will be developed, and a series of outreach events will be organized (guest lectures, books discussions, conferences). 


Main project grant holder: Dr. Gabrielle van den Berg 

Dr. Van den Berg’s research interests include:

  • The literary history of Central Asia, in particular contemporary Tajik literature and on oral poetry and prose in Tajikistan, both in Persian and in the eastern Iranian Pamir languages.
  • The cultural heritage and history of the Ismailis of Tajik Badakhshan.
  • The Pamir languages, in particular Shughni-Rushani.

Post-doc coordinator: Dr. Elena Paskaleva 

Dr. Paskaleva's research interests include:

  • Timurid architecture.
  • Material culture of Central Asia.
  • Critical heritage studies.
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