The Central Asian Roots of Islamic Intellectual Traditions - Conference

24th February 2021

Call for Papers 

The Institute of Ismaili Studies is delighted to invite proposals for individual papers, or whole panels, for its forthcoming international conference The Central Asian Roots of Islamic Intellectual Traditions. Papers and panels may be proposed by senior and junior scholars. 

Important Dates

Conference Dates: 24 - 26 February 2021

Conference Venue: Aga Khan Centre, London, UK

Abstracts Submissions: 30 April 2020 (midnight GMT)

Acceptance Decisions: 30 June 2020

This conference will explore the Central Asian roots of Islamic intellectual traditions by focusing on the origins of the doctrinal, ritual, intellectual and theological aspects which have emerged from this region and have had a decisive influence on how Islam further developed and flourished.

The conference will investigate the dominant Sunni traditions of this region, as well as those of major Shi'i groups such as the Twelver Shi'a and the Ismailis. It will also cover other religious movements which have had historical or doctrinal affiliation with the Shi'i and Sunni Muslims, including various movements such as the Karramiyya, Malamatiyya and others. The influence of key scholars and theologians will be examined as well as the ideas, practices and traditions of the peoples of Central Asia.

Central Asia, in the modern context, has been mainly defined as the territory occupied by the five former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. However, historically the term Central Asia covers a broader geographical area, and has variously referred also to regions of present-day Mongolia, Afghanistan, northern and western Pakistan, north-eastern Iran (also known as Khurasaninfo-icon), Kashmir, Xinjiang in western China, and southern Siberia in Russia. Culturally, Khurasan, in its strict sense, comprised the cities of Nishapur and Tus (now in Iran), Balkh and Herat (now in Afghanistan), Merv (now in Turkmenistan), Samarkand and Bukharainfo-icon (now in Uzbekistan), and Khujand and Panjakent (now in Tajikistan). However, the name Khurasan was used to designate an even larger region that encompassed most of Transoxaniainfo-icon (Fara-rud in Persian and in Arabic Ma wara' al-nahr) and Sogdiana in the north, whilst extending westward to the Caspian Sea, southward to the Sistaninfo-icon desert, and eastward to the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan. The toponym Transoxiana has also been used to refer to parts of Central Asia which correspond approximately to modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and south-west Kazakhstan — in essence the region between the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya (the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers of the ancient Greeks).

The roots of many intellectual and doctrinal aspects of Islam in their Sunni as well as Shiʿi interpretations can be traced back to this region, not least because Central Asia is the birthplace of prominent scholars and theologians of both the Sunni and Shi'i traditions, such as Abu Hanifa (d. 150 AH / 767 CE ), Muhammad b. Musa al-Khwarizmi (d. 235 AH / 850 CE), al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (d. 279 AH / 892 CE), Muhammad al-Bukhari (d. 256 AH / 870 CE), Abu Nasr al-Farabi (d. 339 AH / 951 CE), Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (d. 440 AH / 1048 CE), Abu Ali b. Sina (d. 428 AH / 1037 CE), Abu Hatim al-Razi (d. 322 AH / 934 CE), Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Nasafi (d. 332 AH / 943 CE), Abu Ya'qub al-Sijistani (d. 361 AH / 971 CE), Nasir-i Khusraw (d. 465 AH / 1072 CE), Abd Allah al-Ansari (d. 481 AH / 1089 CE), Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 505 AH / 1111 CE), Muhammad b. Abd al-Karim al-Shahrastani (d. 548 AH / 1153 CE) and Nasir al-Dininfo-icon al-Tusi (d. 672 AH / 1274 CE). In addition, many of the principal doctrinal and intellectual aspects of Islam attest to the influence of the Central Asian milieu. Some of these aspects are unique to the region and others are now considered to be essential for an understanding of how Islam has been perceived and practiced throughout its long and complex history.

The following themes will be explored during the conference:

  • the role of various Islamic groups in the Islamisation of Central Asia
  • the contributions of Central Asian intellectuals to the formation of key philosophical and theological debates
  • the Central Asian roots of Muslim rituals, including those which are specific only to this region
  • the contribution of Central Asian intellectuals to the formation of Islamic law
  • the spread and development of forms of Shiʿi Islam in the region
  • intellectual interactions between the various Shiʿi and non-Shiʿi groups in the region
  • Sufisminfo-icon in Central Asia
  • interactions between Muslim and non-Muslim local traditions in Central Asia
  • museumology, art and material culture in the newly-emerged states of Central Asia.

Submitting your panel proposal

To apply for the conference, please send your paper title, an abstract of 500 words and your academic CV to

We particularly welcome proposals for whole panels curated around certain themes or methodologies. Panels will ideally include four individual papers, but panel of three individual papers will also be considered.