Why we do it
Today, in the popular imagination, the vast and pivotal region that stretches from eastern Iran to Tibet, known as the Islamicate East, is notorious as the cradle of terrorism, violence and war.
And yet, during the half millennium that followed the coming of Islam (8th to 12th centuries CE), this same region witnessed a mixing of cultures and religions that was both unique in itself and extraordinarily influential upon neighbouring societies (a pluralism and dynamism that is captured in the term, “Islamicate” and in the image of lapis lazuli as the prized gem traded from Badakhshan, Afghanistan).
One cause of this apparent contradiction is the lack of any single, coherent research programme dedicated to the study of the Islamicate East. Moreover, the field appeared to lack the sources for such a study.
However, local texts from Afghanistan’s Bamiyan and Ghur regions have become publicly available. They include documents, letters and literary fragments that were written by local Jewish and Muslim traders, business people, clerics, mothers and fathers, poets and rebels.
They attest to an array of relationships, of coexistence, cooperation and conflict between people of different religions in the 11th to 13th centuries CE.
Several hundred more local texts from the medieval Islamicate East found in parts of the modern states of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the wider Central Asian region (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Khotan in China) have also not yet been analysed for their historical content.
Our core goals are:
• To understand the roles played by different stakeholders (political, religious, legal, financial) in the construction of multicultural communities and societies across the Islamicate East;
• To ascertain how texts and material culture help us understand relations between Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Christians, and other faiths in the Islamicate East; and
• To establish how the Persian language developed and interacted with other languages (Arabic, Hebrew and others) in the multicultural Islamicate East.