Two courses on Central Asia in 2017-2018 at Leiden University
Two courses on Central Asia will be offered within the Leiden Central Asia Initiative, funded by the research profile area Asian Modernities and Traditions. 'History of Central Asia & Afghanistan' will be open to BA students of Middle Eastern Studies and 'Material Culture, Memory and Commemoration along the Silk Roads in Central Asia' to MA and MA research students of Asian Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.
History of Central Asia & Afghanistan
Central Asia is a vast region with a rich history in which a multitude of languages are spoken; the birthplace of great empires and the crossroads of many different cultures. Its fluid borders stretch into present-day Afghanistan, Russia, China, Mongolia, Iran and the Caucasus. The history of this region is closely intertwined with the so-called Silk Road, a pre-modern highway of global interaction. Today Central Asia is increasingly important as a focal point of the geopolitical interests and global ambitions of world powers such as for example China’s New Silk Road initiative. This course will focus on the background of Central Asia and Afghanistan today, starting with a multifaceted historical overview of the region – from the heartland of the Silk Road and its empires to a buffer zone for colonial powers, leading to the more recent history, when the term ‘Central Asia’ became more and more synonymous to the five ‘stans’ which came into existence during the first decennia of the former Soviet Union. How are the now independent republics of Kazakhstan, Kirghizstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan grappling with their Soviet heritage and the more distant past and how have these republics tried to shape a national identity by (re)inventing and creating a national history? How about developments in Afghanistan, with its ethnic make-up directly corresponding to the ‘nationalities’ of the Central Asian Republics? What is the role of Islam and other religions in Afghanistan and in present day Central Asian society? How does this relate to what is today understood as the Middle East? Key issues in this course will be empire building, cultural space, identity formation, nationalism, state ideologies, geopolitics and heritage.
The course will be offered as an elective to BA students of Middle Eastern Studies.
Material Culture, Memory and Commemoration along the Silk Roads in Central Asia
The most unexpected innovations and fusions of world’s religions and material culture have taken place along the trade and communication networks known today as the Silk Roads. Term coined by the German geologist Baron Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877, the Silk Road has attracted much scholarly interest in recent years. The aim of this course is to provide an overview of the incredible cultural importance of Central Asia, defined as the five post-Soviet republics, including the region of Khorasan, present-day Afghanistan and Mongolia. The artistic vibrancy of the empires that stretched from China to Byzantium was reflected in their cultural production. Their artistic excellence combined with exquisite decorum was the product of continuous exchanges, mixing and melding of traditions.
Further, the course will offer a broader understanding of the concept of common heritage and multiple identities across Central Asia. Students will analyse cultural memory practices used by the contemporary Central Asian elites as a tool for boosting ethno-nationalism. Aside from the rehabilitation of powerful historical figures as national heroes, the value of cultural memory practices lies in the transmission of beliefs, values and collective acts of cultural remembering. How can these practices and local historical contingencies provide a better understanding of the search for national identities in modern Central Asia?
Students will be introduced to twelve topics related to the material culture along the Silk Roads. Artefacts across the vast Central Asian urban landscapes and steppes will be analysed as material carriers of cultural memory. Starting from the Achaemenid Dynasty (6th c. AD), through the early formative era of Islam up to modern times, the analysis will show the construction of a multi-faceted cultural oecumene. To what extent has Islamic practice been a cohesive or a divisive factor in shaping the relationships between sedentary and nomadic societies along the Silk Roads? Why has the revival of Islamic communities (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) become the centre of governmental cultural policies across modern Central Asia?
The course will be offered as an elective to MA and MA research students of Asian Studies and Middle Eastern Studies.