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Hughes, Katherine (2014) Samanid material culture and identity formation in Post-Soviet Tajikistan. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis investigates the Samanids (819-1005 CE), an Early Islamic, Central Asian dynasty, as subjects and objects of identity formation. It examines their complex material cultural heritage and the role this may have played in synthesising their pre-Islamic roots and new religion. Having invented their own traditions, today the Samanids are themselves invented traditions, functioning as foundation figures in contemporary post-Soviet Tajikistan, part of the new social order production through symbols of power. This thesis looks at how this past is referenced in museums, monuments and memorial culture, and how this points the way to Tajikistan’s future. Two of the chief means of state communication of power and legitimation, today, as in medieval times, are architecture and currency. It is this study ‘in the round’ of Samanid identity formation and exposition of the interplay of past and present that is this thesis’ unique contribution to knowledge. Analysing objects directly ascribed to the Samanids, including the Samanid Mausoleum, a portrait medallion and their coinage, suggests that they modified how they portrayed themselves dependent on audience. These objects produced at the Samanid centre are compared to those found at the Empire’s periphery, within the present borders of Tajikistan, such as the upper Zarafshan Valley minarets and the intricate and sophisticated carved wooden Iskodar Mihrab, columns and panels found in nearby mosques. Their anthropomorphic designs are unusual in an Islamic religious context. Comparison of centre and periphery demonstrates Central Asia’s complexity in 9-10th century; however, the Tajikistani government today is arguably trying to project back a desired monocultural present on a heterogeneous past. While the Samanids as national identity symbols have been discussed by political scientists, these have not focused on the architecture and materiality of the new state’s cultural creations and how this may (or may not) inculcate identity and produce social cohesion. The Somoni statue is centrally sited in Dushanbe, where Lenin once stood. An understanding of how the Soviet past continues to inform the present is key to current Tajik culture and identity formation. Tajik culture is seen as ‘socialist in form and national in content’, in the reversal of the famous maxim.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Anna Contadini
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 28 Feb 2020 14:43

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