The IIS, in conjunction with the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM) of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), organised an international conference in Saint Petersburg to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Wladimir Alekseevich Ivanow, the pioneer of modern Ismaili Studies.

The conference ‘Ismaili Traditions and Spirituality of the People of Pamirs in the Works of Russian Scholars’ brought together scholars from Russia, Central Asia and the West to highlight the contributions of Russian scholarship to Ismaili studies, and to discuss relevant experiences of research in historical and contemporary contexts.

The opening speeches were delivered by Prof. Irina Fyodorovna Popova, the Director of the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts (IOM), Mr. Hakim Elnazarov, Coordinator of the Central Asian Studies Unit at the IIS, and Prof. Stanislav Mikhailovich Prozorov, the Deputy Director of the IOM.

In her welcoming speech, Prof. Irina Popova expressed her gratitude to the conference participants for honouring the memory of Wladimir Ivanow, who was a distinguished scholar as well as a close associate of the IOM. Professor Ivanow spent several years of his professional career at the Asiatic Museum, the predecessor of the IOM, and enriched its Islamic collection with a large number of manuscripts brought from Central Asia.

Drawing on the content of the papers, Mr. Hakim Elnazarov pointed to the growing interest in Central Asian Ismaili traditions in Russia and Central Asia, and the opportunities for engagement between scholars and institutions which can lead to a better understanding of the culture and traditions of the Central Asian mountain societies.  Prof. Stanislav Prozorov highlighted the significant role of the Ismaili interpretation of Islam in the religious and political history of the Muslim world and its contribution to the world's spiritual heritage. He particularly welcomed the choice of St. Petersburg as the venue for the conference, considering its glorious past as the capital of Imperial Russia and birthplace of Russian Oriental Studies, including the systematic study of the culture, traditions and written heritage of Central Asian Muslims.

Dr. Farhad Daftary, Co-director of the IIS, delivered a keynote speech entitled, ‘Wladimir Ivanow and Modern Ismaili Studies’. He stressed that in order to appreciate and assess the contributions of Ivanow to Ismaili studies, it was important to understand the evolution of Ismaili studies. Dr. Daftary spoke about three phases in Ismaili studies: the medieval period, the period associated with the development of Oriental studies in the West and modern Ismaili scholarship starting from the 1930s with the discovery of genuine Ismaili manuscripts. Access to these manuscripts allowed Wladimir Ivanow to present a new perspective on the Ismailis, which gradually replaced the legends and myths about the community in academic scholarship.

The papers presented at the conference dealt with a wide range of related topics from various disciplines, such as history, philosophy, culture and traditions of Ismaili Muslims, and highlighted the degree of their study in Russian scholarship. Speakers at the conference represented various academic institutions, including the University of Central Asia, University of Toronto, Tajik Academy of Sciences, Institutes of Ethnography, Anthropology, Linguistics and Oriental Studies in Moscow.

Conference participants also had the opportunity to attend the inauguration of the exhibition of the Aga Khan Museum at the State Hermitage Museum under the rubric of Architecture in Islamic Arts: Treasures of the Aga Khan Museum.

On the final day of the conference, the participants visited the exhibition of Count Aleksey Bobrinskoy held at the Russian Museum of Ethnography in Saint Petersburg. The exhibition was devoted to the 150th birth anniversary of this outstanding Russian scholar, who made original contributions to research in the field of traditional art and culture of Russian people, as well as the peoples of the Pamirs.