Category Archives: Dissertations

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

PhD thesis in 2008

Julie Baujard, Refugee identity, transversal identity. Refugees in Delhi within the institutional, community and associative dynamics. [Identité “réfugié”, identité transversale. Les réfugiés à Delhi au sein des dynamiques institutionnelles, communautaires et associatives.] PhD thesis in Anthropology, University of Provence, Aix-Marseille I, 2008.

“This thesis examines the category of people known as “refugees” and the impact this categorization has on the creation of an identity in the limited framework, Delhi, a space of convergence, and dispersion. The category of refugees includes people of different ethnic groups, religions, and nationalities. I attempt to determine whether their image of themselves and the types of action they engage in are common to them all, which would indicate that their identity is based on their situation as  refugees. The category of refugee is broken down into: the regulatory bodies that give substance to the refugee “label”; the people who support refugees politically and socially; and religious groups (Christian groups) who are also key players in the “refugee system”. A transversal approach leads to the conclusion that as civil society emerges, carrying with it expression of a heterogeneous identity along with community dynamic, one can define the refugee identity.”

Delphine Ortis, Ethnography of an Indian Islam. Religious and Social Organization of a Muslim Institution: The Dargâh of the Martyr Ghâzî Miyân (Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, North India). [Ethnographie d’un islam indien. Organisation culturelle et sociale d’une institution musulmane: la dargâh du martyr Ghâzî Miyân (Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh, Inde du Nord).] PhD thesis in Anthropology, CEIAS-EHESS, Paris, 2008.

“This thesis deals with a dargâh, the most representative institution of Islam on the Indian subcontinent. The study of the dargâh of the martyr Ghâzî Miyân in Bahraich (Uttar Pradesh) raises issues concerning the role of Islamic values in local Hindu society. These have been studied from three different perspectives: organization of worship, social organization, and the martyr’s acts. Both daily and festive worship, analysed on the basis of notions of time and space, reveals the distinctive roles played by Muslim and Hindu inhabitants of a territory defined by the worship of Ghâzî Miyân. He appears to be a kind of local power who reacts in function of human events. The social organisation of the sanctuary as an institution, comparable to the ancient landownership system, is based on relations of service and the sharing of wealth between several beneficiaries. The hagiography of the martyr describing him as a Jihad conqueror seems at first sight to be in contradiction with his veneration. His story is interwoven with hagiography, local legends and ballads and reveals itself to be a reconfiguration based on a universe of shared Islamic and Hindu values of the classic young warrior hero who dies a martyr’s death.”

Anna Poujeau, Churches, Monasticism and Holiness. Construction of the Christian Community in Syria. [Églises, Monachisme et Sainteté. Construction de la communauté chrétienne en Syrie.] PhD thesis in Anthropology, Paris X-Nanterre, 2008.

“This thesis focuses on the social, political and symbolic inscriptions of the Christian minority in the Syrian national territory, more specifically, on the monastic revival which has been taking place in this country over the last three decades. It is indeed a revival, in spite of its late manifestation, as this contemporary process, including its local representations, falls within the scope of a history which goes back to the origins of Christianity. What then are the motives of this phenomenon? How and why did monasticism reappear in Syria today? How must this “return of the monks”, who had been saintly considered during the first centuries of Christianity, be interpreted? What kind of relation may be established between monasticism and holiness? This thesis attempts to answer these broad questions which place it, at the same time, in the field of the anthropology of Christianity and that of the study of monasticism. They refer to the contemporary modalities of construction of the Christian community of Syria, where its three dimensions, the Churches, monasticism and holiness are closely related and seem to structure its universe. Christian monasticism in Syria is analysed through its historical, symbolic, religious, social, economic and political dimensions.”

Audrey Peli, Coins, Metal and Power: Mints and Minting Techniques in Yemen (2th- 6th/8th-12th centuries). [Monnaies, métal et pouvoir. Frappes et techniques monétaires au Yémen (IIe-VIe/VIIIe-XIIe siècles).] PhD thesis in Archaeology, University of Paris 1-Panthéon Sorbonne, 2008.

“The study of Yemeni coins, from the foundation in Ṣanâ’ of the first mint during Hârûn al-Rashîd’s reign (170-193/786-809) until the conquest of the Yemen by Tûrânshâh in 569/1173, explores History, Economy and metallurgical techniques. Comparing textual and numismatic sources allows one to fix the dates of historical events, to establish dynastic lists, to identify local troubles and, through titles, political allegiance between Yemeni rulers and the sovereigns of the Islamic world. Chronicles, geographical works, archives and hoards testify to the circulation and to the monetary uses in the Yemen where currencies were minted with different weights. They show the place of the Yemen in international trade between India and Egypt and shed light on the role coins played. Finally, the metallurgical treatise al-Hamdânî wrote in the 4th/10th century allows us to reconstruct the process of refining metal. Coins compared with textual and archaeological data reveal a political and economic history of Yemen during the first centuries of Islam. It shows the evolution of this country, at first neglected and then flourishing at the eve of the Ayyûbid conquest.”

Manan Ahmed, The Many Histories of Muhammad b. Qasim: Narrating the Muslim conquest of Sindh, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, December 2008.

“This study focuses on the history and representation of Muhammad b. Qasim, the commander of the Muslim forces, which conquered the region of Sindh (present day Pakistan) in the eighth century. The history of Muhammad b. Qasim emerged as a central origin myth for the postcolonial state of Pakistan. It formed a piece of the nationalist struggle against the British, and remains a contested historical symbol. To understand the many social and political functions of the history of Muhammad b. Qasim, the study begins with the earliest extant accounts of the conquest and attempt to delineate “what happened” from “what is said to have happened.” It argues for the recasting of these histories outside of nationalist/postcolonial paradigms, in order to situate them as regional histories, produced within the “frontier of Sindh” – a liminal perspective mediating between the global and the local. This perspective allows examining the production of such histories, and the afterlives of the texts, in political and cultural memory, within their historiographical, literary and political contexts across the longue durée.”