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James Hart

PhD candidate

J.G. Hart MA
+31 71 527 2171

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More information about James Hart

Ph.D. Research Project

I am interested in religious conversion in Central Asia in the pre-modern period.  All of the world’s great missionary religions have been present in Central Asia, if only for a time, crossing ethnic boundaries like spurs on a trade-route.  Since the 19th century and the birth of nationalism, key features of an ethnic identity have been a shared history, shared traditions, a common faith, and a common language.  My question is:   if religion is such an essential element in the self-definition of ethic entity, what would possess a people to deliberately modify their own self-definition by changing their religion?

I intend this set of concepts to be my life’s research – the examination of religious identity and its relationship to ethnic identification in pre-modern Inner Asia, and the current proposed topic a preliminary case study.

General Research Question:  Why and how do mass religious conversions take place?

I assume that the ‘why’ is related to an anthropologically selective advantage – those converting to the new faith or their leaders see some benefit in conversion.  This is a question of historical research.  ‘How’ is a question of process connected to themes of political power, adaptation and exclusion.  How was the faith propagated?  In what ways was the new faith consistent with the pre-existent cultural outlook of the converting people, and in what ways was it radically different?  How were these gaps bridged?  Was a priesthood involved?  What resources did it have at its disposal?  How did the political power at that time support the priesthood and conversely, how did the priesthood support the political power?  One of the major themes that I will be exploring here is the nature of missionary religions, using the specific instance of Manicheanism as a model. 

Specific Research Question:  How and why did the Uighur convert to Manichaeism in the 8th Century CE?

This is a difficult question as discerning motivation in historical research is problematic.  One collects the facts, interprets them, and creates a reasonable hypothesis which is argued through reference and reason.  My research will look at Manichaeism itself as a complex of ideas, some adaptive, some exclusive.  The historical context is of grave matter here as well, including assimilative and dissimulative attempts by the Uighur leadership of the time.

The Importance and relevance of the research:

This research will be a study in the historical, religious, and cultural processes of religious change and conversion through time.  Insights uncovered here can be applied to other instances of mass conversion in Central Asia, being aware of course, that every time and place has its own particularities that must be addressed in its own research. 

Related theoretical and anthropological themes applicable to conversion events at different times and places include processes of missionary religions, adaptation to local environments, what of the pre-existing spiritual strata was considered acceptable for adoption, and what was considered unacceptable and subject to exclusion.  Consequent to the investigation of the processes of enforcing new religious norms, this theme explores the relationship between organized religious structures and political structures.  This of course requires a deep examination of the historical forces permeating the specific conversion event, addressing the question of what was to be gained by the change. 

This research could be useful for studies of religious conversion.  It may also be of value to students of area studies, elucidating the connections between religion, politics, history, philosophy, anthropology, and the humanities.  Students of nationalism and modern ethnicity studies may also derive some insights from research such as this.  

Supervisors: Prof. dr. A.F. de Jong en prof. dr. E.G.E. van der Wall.


  • INDIANA UNIVERSITY, Bloomington, IN (USA): Master of Arts, Near Eastern Languages & Cultures, 2001.  Emphases: Islam, pre-Islamic Iranian religions, Arabic and Farsi languages. MA in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
  • UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA, Missoula, MT (USA): Bachelor of Arts, Foreign Languages & Literatures- Classics, 1998. BA in Classical Languages
  • SAINT CATHERINES’ HIGH SCHOOL, Racine, WI (USA). High School Diploma 


  • THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF IRAQ SULAIMANI, Sulaimani, (Kurdish Regional Government) Iraq
  • KYRGYZ-UZBEK UNIVERSITY, Osh, the Kyrgyz Republic
  • OSH STATE UNIVERSITY, Osh, the Kyrgyz Republic
  • INDIANA UNIVERSITY, Bloomington, Indiana (USA)

Areas of Study

  • Religion- general:  History of Religions, Religion and Philosophy, Heresiology, Mysticism, Religious Contact and Conflict
  • Religion- traditions:  Islam, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Christianity (Ancient and Medieval)
  • Islam:  Medieval Islamic Philosophy, Islamic Intellectual Culture, Sufism, Shi’ism, Ismai’ilsm, Islamic Heresies, Islam in the Non-Arabic World
  • Central Asia- History, Geography, Religion, Culture, Languages
  • Near Eastern Religion and History, Ancient Near Eastern Religion and History
  • Classical Languages and Literature, Ancient Philosophy and Religion,
  • Archaeology
  • Philosophy
  • Arts and the Humanities


 Key:  b – beginner, i – intermediate, a - advanced

Arabic (i), Farsi (Persian and Dari) (a), Ancient Greek (a), Latin (a), French (i), Italian (i), Russian (a), German (i), Kyrgyz (i), Uzbek (i), Sorani Kurdish (b), Old Turkic (i), Pahlavi (b), Manichaean Sogdian (b)

Study abroad

Rome, Italy 1995
Greece 1995
Etruscan Excavation, Poggio Civitate (Murlo), Italy 1995

Work abroad

  • U.S. Peace Corps, University English Instructor. Osh, the Kyrgyz Republic, 09/24/2004 – 12/03/2007
  • The American University of Afghanistan, Kabul, Afghanistan, June, 2008 – September, 2010
  • The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, Sulaimani, Iraq, August, 2011 to present

PhD candidate

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies
  • LUCSoR
  • No relevant ancillary activities
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