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C16 Unfolding Central Asia

Projects (2013-2017)

Demographic Turn in the Junction of Cultures (since 2013) coordinated by Sophie Roche:

International Symposium "Family in the History of Central Asia" (November 2014):

Muslim Migrants in Russia (since 2013):

The M. Faizulloev Collection (2014-2017):


In Germany, Central Asia usually includes the area from Afghanistan to Mongolia and from Xingjian to the black sea. Some departments however limit Central Asia to the five post-Soviet republics Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, at times including Afghanistan. Such studies may also include the Caucasus and hence use the Soviet period as point of departure and direction from where to look at the region. This is particularly the case for East European Studies (Osteuropastudien) or Eurasian Studies or Inner Asian Studies (in the Anglophone world) that look at the region from the perspective of historical Russia and the Soviet Union.

Since the end of the Soviet Union research on and in Central Asia has develop in several directions driven by political interests, financial conditions of research institutes and university, and individual research interests. While historical approaches have been integrated into various institutes including Slavic Studies, East European Studies, Asian history and various other history departments, studies on contemporary Central Asia remain short-lived and dependent on projects.

At the core of area studies lies the idea that it is worth to study regions by political, linguistic and cultural differentiations. Transcultural approaches have criticized these research entities and suggested to look for relationships, interconnectivities and entanglements across regions. However, this demands the solid knowledge of several languages, social and political contexts and there is no reason why Central Asia should be treated as periphery to more established disciplines ignoring its internal complexity, language diversity, history, political distinct paths, global relationships and cultural productions. One solution is to work through subjects rather than disciplines which follows transcultural approaches that are interested in exchange processes rather than boundaries and clear-cut objects. Central Asian Studies offers itself to a transcultural approach through its interdisciplinary knowledge production. Central Asian Studies draw from ethnography, oriental studies and Russia focussed disciplines (East European Studies, Eurasian Studies, Inner-Asian Studies, Slavic Studies etc.) and cannot be isolated as disciplinary history. This multi-disciplinary approach to the region has led, on the one hand, to research that, at times, speak little to one another but, on the other hand, saved the region from the dilemma of area studies, namely, to isolate the history, culture and politics from neighbours, creating regional containers.

Transcultural methods go beyond monolingual research and political boundaries, their strength is to zoom into micro-processes and out into larger entanglements, to look at the sudden events and long-term processes. This demands in-depth knowledge of the subject and of several regions, a challenge that is time and resource consuming. Historically, Central Asia remains relevant to all area studies in Asia but contemporary approaches are not the simple continuation of former empires. Rather, political ruptures, religious orientations, economic relationships require different approaches for Central Asia since the 20th century. The challenge of studying contemporary Central Asia including the former Soviet period has been the core of this group at the Cluster of Excellence. We understand Central Asian Studies as a construction site to which many disciplines contribute but that can only be understood through the study of micro-processes in relation to historical, regional and geo-political dynamics.


Associated group member

Abdullah Mirzoev

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  • Seeking Student Assistant for Project C16

    The project ”The demographic turn at the junction of cultures” at the Cluster of Excellence “Asia and Europe in a Global Context” of the University of Heidelberg is seeking to fill one position as student assistant:   one student assistant at BA/MA level for 40–50 hours/month...