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Peoples and Cultures of Central Asia
CEUS-R 316/516
Nazif Shahrani

This course carries CASE S&H & CASE GCC designations

A general anthropological introduction to the societies and cultures of the contemporary Muslim successor states of former Soviet Central Asia and the adjacent areas of Iran and Afghanistan, i.e., western Turkistan. Topics include ecology, ethnohistory and the structure of traditional subsistence strategies (nomadic pastoralism, sedentary farming, and urban mercantilism); social institutions (marriage, family, kinship, gender relations, identities and organization, and religious beliefs and practices); and the assessment of socioeconomic change and recent political transformations experienced by the peoples of this region under the colonial rules of tsarist and Soviet Russia, and the modern nation states of Iran and Afghanistan. The consequences of the collapse of the former USSR and war on terrorism, volatile sociopolitical conditions, and future prospects for the peoples of this region will be also critically examined. No special knowledge of the region on the part of students is presumed. A background in general anthropology would be helpful, but not necessary. The course will consist of lectures, reading assignments, film and slide presentations, and class discussions.

Required Texts (titles vary)

  • Elizabeth Bacon, Central Asia Under Russian Rule: A Study in Culture Change. Cornell University Press: 1980.
  • Marianne Kamp, The New Women in Uzbekistan: Islam, Modernity, and Unveiling Under Communism. 2006.
  • Adeeb Khalid, Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia. 2007.
  • Annemarie Schimmel, Islam: An Introduction. SUNY Press: Albany, New York, 1992.
  • Nazif Shahrani, The Kirghiz and Wakhi of Afghanistan: Adaptation to Closed Frontiers and War. University of Washington Press: Seattle, 2002.

Course Requirement


Undergraduate students course grades will be based on a midterm exam (50 pts.), a final exam (100 pts.), an eight page (double-spaced typed) critical comparative written review of the three ethnographic/historical case studies by Kamp, Khalid, and Shahrani (40 pts.), and participation in class discussions (10 pts.). The course grade will be determined on the basis of these 200 cumulative points. All examinations will be in class and in essay format.

Graduate students are expected to submit a term paper (100 pts.) in addition to taking both exams (150 pts.). They are also expected to submit a critical written review (three double-spaced pages maximum) of the weekly required readings assignments (at least once during the semester) and lead an class discussion of materials reviewed for approximately 30 minutes. These written critical reviews should highlight the most important issues, questions, and concept in the readings and will be shared electronically with the entire class at least two days before the discussion date (50 pts). The course grade will be based on these 300 cumulative points.