Category Archives: Dissertations

PhD thesis: Indo-Islamic Societies through Arabic and Persian inscriptions

Johanna Blayac, Genesis and history of the first Indo-Muslim and Indo-Islamic Societies through Arabic and Persian inscriptions (7th-14th centuries), PhD thesis in History, EPHE, Paris, 16 December 2009.

“Islamic inscriptions of the Indian subcontinent, that were collected and published since the end of the 18th century, have not been studied with a global problematic until now. The first two-hundred and ninety-six Arabic and Persian known inscriptions from the region (7th-14th centuries) are put together here, – listed, (re)edited, and analysed, to study the formation and history of the first Indo-Muslim and Indo-Islamic societies, through the multiple aspects of epigraphic sources, both textual or philological and material. This thesis thus begins by showing the various political, social and economic processes operating during the different phases of Muslim and Islamic penetration and implantation in the different regions of the Indian subcontinent through the chrono-geographic  distribution of the inscriptions. It subsequently studies, by region and then by dynasty during the Delhi sultanate period, the composition and the representations of the Indo-Muslim elites, merchants, religious men, statesmen and soldiers, from the very texts of the inscriptions and the names and duties they provide. At last, it considers the first regional architectural remains, greatly composite, and the epigraphic programmes of the main monuments ordered by the sultans of Delhi, as “architectural” discourses, and thus reflects of the articulations and “tension” between the Islamic phraseology and the social, political and religious contexts.”

Keywords: Medieval India, Islamic epigraphy/inscriptions, Islamic conquest, Muslim settlement, Delhi sultanate, Indian Ocean, Sind, Gujarat, Kerala, Indo-Islamic societies, composite cultures.

 

PhD thesis: From Sufism to Sufislamism in Pakistan

Alix Philippon, Pir politics. From Sufism to Sufislamism: recombination, modernization and mobilization of “brotherhoods” in Pakistan. PhD thesis in Political Sciences, IEP Aix-en-Provence, 8 December 2009.

“Generally posited as the mystical trend within Islam and often hyped as an alternative to the more politically active Islamism, Sufism, through its various orders and leaders, the pirs, is however a key to understanding “Muslim politics” (James Piscatori and Dale Eickelman). A major repertoire of Islamic language, Sufism is an ambiguous signifier which has undergone a process of politicization: its semantics has become a stake in the power ratio between many contending groups, both state and non-state. Within the Pakistani Islamist field, the movement which has the most loudly trumpeted its affiliation to the Sufi identity is the Barelwi movement. Often overlooked by scholars, this theological school has been experiencing a revival since the 1980s, through the burgeoning of many new religious and/or political organizations, generally structured on the pattern of the brotherhood. Recruiting in sociologically modern circles, these brotherhoods, established in urban centres, have often successfully attempted to redefine themselves in accordance with the demands of modernity. They have notably rationalized and internationalized their organizations, and become conscious of the importance of socio-political stakes, prompting them to adopt a posture of committed activism, thus demonstrating how “tradition” may become a powerful vehicle for change and political mobilization. In order to designate such groups claiming Sufism and Sufi identity as a register for Islamist mobilization, I have coined the concept “Sufislamism”. Besides enabling an enhanced analysis of the various  interactions between Sufism and Islamism, this concept may also improve our understanding of the highly fissile politicization of the doctrinal fractures inside the Islamist movement in Pakistan, thus helping to chart the deep waters of identity politics, especially those of intra-Sunni sectarianism.”

Keywords: Sufism, Islamism, identity politics, modernization, mobilization, Pakistan

 

PhD thesis: Inventories of historic towns in Sindh

Anila Naeem, Recognising historic significance using inventories: a case of historic towns in Sindh, Pakistan, Joint Center for Urban Design – Oxford Brook, 16 November 2009.

“This research deals with two connected problems in the context of Sindh, the south-eastern parts of Pakistan: the lack of adequate and flexible methods for assessing urbanized historic traditions, and the lack of knowledge and understanding for these. Addressing both issues, the research aims at developing methods for assessing historic built form traditions in the region, using its historic towns as case studies. This research derives its frame of reference by combining methods of historical urban geography and urban morphology, with principles of urban area conservation, to study the historic urban traditions in Sindh, and identify their value of significance as not only important historic sources, but also as economic and environmental assets of the region.

The defined objectives of research are achieved through investigations at two levels – regional and town. The regional level work develops a historicogeographic map of Sindh identifying the significance historic urban centers and presents their typo-morphological analysis. The town scale research develops a method for systematic documentation and inventory of historic places, and presents a method for analysis and evaluation to reinstate their significance and guide the development of effective policies and proposals for a possible revival of historic urban centers. The process of research involves a literature review on the history and background of the region and its case study towns. It further builds research data through inductive field research to develop a comprehensive documentation of the case study town. The outcomes of the research indicate a rich and unique urban fabric that represents socio-economic, political and cultural developments of the region. In addition, it represents a historic urban environment shaped through local building traditions and materials that developed in response to the climatic and environmental conditions in the region. The present state of affairs, as evident from the research outcomes, points towards an urgent need for conservation initiatives to ensure the survival of this historic built fabric into the future.

Historic towns of Sindh have never been surveyed or documented methodically in order to build inventories of historic places. The absence of effective implementation tools added by threatening development pressures, jeopardize survival of the historic built environments. There is thus an urgent need to identify and document the existing historic fabric and develop viable policies for their preservation; ensuring economic sustainability for the communities involved and allowing management of natural and environmental resources to achieve a balanced growth and development in the region.”

Keywords: inventory, documentation, historic urban centers, Sindh, Shikarpoor, Pakistan, conservation policy guidelines

 

PhD thesis: The Islamic monuments of Ahmedabad

Sara Keller, The Islamic monuments of the walled city of Ahmedabad, India (15-18th century): an archeological study. PhD thesis in Building Archaeology, University of Paris IV Sorbonne, France; and Otto-Friedrich Universität Bamberg, Germany, 16 October 2009.

“Unlike many medieval and modern royal urban foundations in the Indian subcontinent, the city of Ahmedabad survived till now as the politic and economic heart of Gujarat. Today, the historical Islamic monuments are the sole witnesses of the splendor of a city which used to controlled the trade ways linking Delhi and central India with the arabic countries and the eastern African coast. Our archeological study not only identified the vast corpus of Islamic monuments still existing of the walled city of Ahmedabad, it also permitted a detailed analysis of the sites and buildings, bringing informations concerning the evolution of architectural forms and technics over more than four centuries. Those researches brought new lights on the urban history of Ahmedabad and the history of Gujarat, as well as on the importance of the “Gujarati style” within the Indian architecture and the architecture of the islamic world. The study finally could show the survival, in Gujarat, of feudal systems deeply rooted in the local culture till the end of the 16th century, and the transition to a modern type of administration spread in India by the Mughal empire.”

Keywords: India, architecture, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Islam, mosque, mausoleum, madrasa, Sultanate, Mughal, minaret, sufi, art, jain, brahmanical, indic, urban structures, city, monuments, water, tank, measurement, proportion, vastu, ornementation, arche, technique, pietra dura.

 

MA dissertation: De-centering Devotion in Sehwan Sharif

Omar F. Kasmani, De-centering Devotion: The Complex Subject of Sehwan Sharif, MA thesis in Anthropology, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations, 27 September 2009.

“Anthropological studies on ritual in South Asia have tended to emphasize an all-pervasiveness of the sacred so much so, it is alleged, that the non-sacred is rendered nonexistent. As a consequence, the “devotee” is imagined as a homogenous subject constituted under a unitary desire for submissive devotion. Complicating essentialist portrayals of the South Asian subject, the aim of this research is to situate multiple desires including devotion amongst shrine-goers at Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan.

The central framework of this study is informed by Ewing’s idea of “multiple subjective modalities”. Data from the field has been co-constructed in the researcher’s interaction with subjects in and around the shrine. By speaking of personal narratives, conflicts and motivations, the four primary and several secondary informants have illustrated a shared nexus of desires and subject positions; finding themselves at the forefront of various ideological battles, shrine-goers dexterously hold, respond to, associate with, and shift between, a number of subject positions.

The evidence for polyvocal subjects at the shrine of La`l Shahbâz Qalandar as documented in this research makes a case for a more complex exploration of ritual practitioners’ desires. In other words, by situating, at the level of the individual, an intersection of conflicting desires, it is argued, that shrine-goers operate, and in fact oscillate between, “multiple subjective modalities”.”

Keywords: subject/subjectivity, devotion, desire, Sehwan, shrine, shrine-goers

MA dissertation: The shrine of Hinglaj Devi in Baluchistan

Jürgen Schaflechner, Die Göttin Hiṅglāj Eine Untersuchung unter besonderer Berücksichtigung ihrer Bedeutung für die jāti der Brahmakṣatriya, MA thesis, Institut für Neuere Südasienstudien der Universität Heidelberg, 7 July 2009.

“Indological and Anthropological studies have for long ignored the shrine of Hiṅglāj Devi, or Nānī Mā as she is also called, in Baluchistan. This Magister thesis explores the narratives of this particular religious place and argues that its remote position and ancient history have, over the years, led to multiple and often overlapping mytho-historical oral traditions and writings. Such myths, often reflecting the socio-political changes of the area, are found among various religious communities and thus thwart a conventional segregation of religious taxonomies at the shrine. Due to such overlapping discourses the heuristic value of the concept of “Syncretism” is discussed and scrutinized for its usage within this case study.

The second part of the book focuses on the history and the symbolic interpretation of the shrine among one particular group, the Brahmakṣatriya/Khatrī caste of West Rajasthan. One of their main texts, the “Brahmakṣatriyotpatti Evaṃ Maṁ Hiṃgulāj” is given in translation from Hindi, to show how the goddess as a religious symbol, along with the power of a sanskritic-brahmanic discourse, are used to justify the caste´s claim to be of Kṣatriya origin.”

Keywords: Hinglaj Devi, Avar, Karni Mata, Carani Sagati, Lhatri Community, Brahmanksatriya, Parashurama, Mythology, Caran Community, Cultural Memory

MA dissertation: The Imami Ismaili community in South Asia

Laurence Gautier, The evolution of the role and status of the Imam within the Imami Ismaili community in South Asia (1947-1993), M.A. thesis, ENS/EHESS (Paris), 2009.

“This dissertation examines the evolution of the concept of Imama after 1947, in a context of communal tensions and rising Islamic fundamentalism in South Asia. It puts the emphasis on the efforts of Sultan Muhammad Shah and of his successor Shah Karim, imams of the Imami Ismailis, to defend their community – a religious minority in both India and Pakistan, and to preserve their own authority – the target of many controversies. To achieve both objectives, they developed privileged relationships with the authorities in the two new independent states, especially in Pakistan. Above all, they reinterpreted their role and status as imams by using the elements of the Ismaili tradition, which would strengthen the Muslim identity of their community and legitimize their own authority. The temporal dimension of the Imama became essential. Shah Karim later created a large network of NGOs, further shifting the focus of attention from religious controversies to development issues. Being the “Imam of the Time”, Shah Karim not only adapted the understanding of faith to the changing times, he also gave a new definition of his role as imam. The Imama, considered as a fundamental of faith, therefore appeared as a concept in constant evolution.”

 

PhD thesis: Shia-Ismaili Motifs in the Sufi Architecture of the Indus Valley

Hasan Ali Khan, Shia-Ismaili Motifs in the Sufi Architecture of the Indus Valley, 1200-1500 A.D., PhD thesis in Religious Studies, SOAS, London, 30 April 2009.

“The relationship between Shiism and Sufism is one of the most unexplored areas of Islamic studies. Its study has traditionally been hindered by the lack of primary sources. This is especially so in the case of Ismailism in the medieval Islamic Era, which is more easily associable to Sufism.

Ismaili associations with early Sufism go back to the Fatimid Era in Egypt of which the Indus Valley was a part. This is in the tenth century when dominant Ismaili and Twelver states ruled the Middle East. After the destruction of these Shia states by the incoming Sunni Turkic dynasties, Ismailism went underground in Iran and its ideas reappeared in the shape of Sufi Orders in Iraq, most prominently the Suhrawardi Order. In this period, Ismailism flourished again in the Indus Valley under missionaries sent from neighboring Iran, who freely worked on the metaphysical commonality between Indian and Iranian cultures for their proselytism. Its zenith was reached under the Ismaili missionary Shams in the thirteenth century, who after a long spate of problems in his host country, perfected a system of metaphysical interlacing called the Satpanth, or true path, setting up ceremonies which tied him to the Suhrawardi Sufi Order which preexisted here. This association led to the falling out of the court patronised order with the Imperial Authorities in Delhi. The Satpanth worked through an astrological framework based on the Persian New Year, and the vice-regency of the first Shia Imam Ali, which is the basis of the Shia faith. The astrological resonances of Ali’s succession or vice-regency to Muhammad were known to Muslim scholars in the Iranian Shia-Ismaili tradition before Shams’s time, but are historically first interlaced by Shams with the local calendar for the benefit of his followers. The Satpanth later found its way as astrological symbolism on the monuments of the Suhrawardi Order. In addition, an unorthodox monument archetype which accommodates Satpanth ideals is common to the buildings associated with Shams, his descendants and Suhrawardi Sufis over three centuries. Evidence suggest that Shams may have been responsible this archetype.

A comparison between extant religious ceremony, iconography and the common monument archetype in the latter chapters shows the covert Shia-Ismaili beliefs of the Suhrawardi Order in the Indus Valley. This complements the critical reexamination of historical sources for the purpose in the first half of the thesis.”

Keywords: Shiism, Ismailism, Suhrawardi Sufi Order, Satpanth, Shams, Indus valley, Pakistan