2022 Workshop

Workshop 1

Host Institutions: CNRS–École Pratique des Hautes Études/Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités & CNRS–École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales/Centre Chine, Corée, Japon

Location: 54, Boulevard Raspail – F-75006 Paris – Room 01 (First Basement)

Date: April 11–13, 2022


The RedGold ANR Research Programme has held its first in camera workshop on April 11 to 13, 2022, at the Raspail Campus of the Practical School of Advanced Studies (EPHE) and of the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris. After a first year of activity impacted by the limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic, and by a succession of online meetings, the first aim of this on site workshop was to allow the members of the programme’s Research Team who had the possibility to travel to Paris to get to know each other better. The meeting also allowed many reunions between colleagues who had not met during the past two years, including some between members present online. The second of our aims was to propose for common reflection a certain number of works in progress, by part of the team, on the distinct role of a diversity of textual practices of the past half-century (lives of saints and edifying stories, biographical dictionaries, memoirs, sermons, literary fiction, gnostic poetry, funerary inscriptions, etc.) in the Muslim hagiographic experiences characteristic of this period. Its first result is a set of studies in progress that have benefited from the cross-regional and cross-cultural comparative perspectives sketched out during our discussions. This set, to be enriched by other work in progress by several members of the team, should give way to the posting of new commented documents on the project’s blog in the coming months, before a first collaborative publication in a volume scheduled, if nothing comes in the way, for autumn 2023.


Monday, April 11, 2022

Time Table (in GMT+1)

09.00–09.15 Welcome Address Speech by Stéphane DUDOIGNON (Project Management) & Marie-Paule HILLE (Project Coordination)
09.15–09.45 Tour of the Table and Introductory Discussion

Session 1: Tradition Remobilised

Time Table Presentation by Title and Summary Discussant
09.45–10.30 Pascale BUGNON

(U. of Geneva)


The Origin of Sa‘id ibn Abi-Waqqas in Guangzhou: Mapping Conflicting Testimonies on the Introduction of Islam in China

The stories surrounding the introduction of Islam to China are closely linked to Sa‘id ibn Abi-Waqqas, the Prophet’s maternal uncle, who is believed to have arrived in the city of Guangzhou between 622 and 629 CE. Upon his arrival, he is said to have built the first mosque in China and to have contributed to the friendly exchanges between Muslim countries and China. This presentation will analyse a selection of Chinese sources about the origin of this saint, which testimony the historiographic mutation of the introduction of Islam in China during the twentieth century. This varied and contrasting literary production reveals the debates and controversies induced around this figure, his function and his perception according to political contexts.


(Humboldt U.) 

10.30–11.15 Thierry ZARCONE


Comparing the Oral and Written Hagiographies of a Major Sufi Figure of Xinjiang: Diyā’ al-Dīn Ayyūb Qārī al-Yarkandī (d. 1952?)

Diyā’ al-Dīn Ayyūb Qārī al-Yarkandī (1911-1952?) is the major Sufi figure in twentieth-century Xinjiang and the author of one of the most important Sufi manual (Manba‘ al-Asrār, 1937-41, in manuscript and mimeographed format) still in use nowadays. The head, after 1938, of the Naqshbandiyya-Thāqibiyya lineage brought from Ferghana to Yarkand, in meridional Xinjiang, Ayyūb Qārī set up around 1945 a khānaqāh and a madrasa near Yarkand. Genealogically, he is of Afghan origin and an alleged descendant of a grandson of Ahmad Sirhindī established in Kabul. Ayyūb Qārī died in 1952 under unclear circumstances, probably killed by the Liberation Army, but the Naqshbandiyya-Thāqibiyya continued to work underground since, and remains influential in Xinjiang among Uyghurs and Hui as well as among the Hui and Salars of Gansu. This presentation is a tentative biography of Ayyūb Qārī, based on three different sources: 1) the only existing hagiography of him written in modern Uyghur by one of his disciples around 1994; 2) oral information I obtained from some of his disciples and members of his lineage between 1994 and 2013; 3) few mentions of him in official printed documents in modern Uyghur after 1949. In writing this biography, my approach is twofold: 1) to be cautious about reading the written sources since both hagiography and Chinese literature are more or less biased information; 2) to historicise the oral data, i.e. to confront them with history and other oral sources.

Coffee Break (11.15–11.30)

11.30–12.15 Stéphane DUDOIGNON


Gnosis as Dissent: The Soviet-Time Sufi Poetry of the Qarategin Valley and Its Place in the Muslim Hagiography of Present-Day Tajikistan

Central in the Muslim hagiography of present-day Tajikistan is the celebration of two Soviet-period Persian-language gnostic poets of the Qarategin Valley, the Mujaddidi Naqshbandi guide of Dahbidi ascent Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahim Dawlat Ilaki (c. 1881–1947) and his pupil Damulla Iskandar Bidaki (c. 1895–1989). Written against different historical backgrounds, their respective ghazals are seen today, by regional historiographers, as a vector of the historical continuity of high culture on Tajikistani territory. Naqshbandi aspirants (murids) have developed different views of this heritage — interpreted as the cradle of a dissent that continues today, against a post-Soviet regime condemned for its irreligion. This clash of perceptions reflect two constants of the hagiographic process in general, viz. its attachment to a distinct locality and its intrinsically ambiguous character.

Rachida CHIH


12.15–13.00 Shamil SHIKHALIEV

(U. Amsterdam)


Islamic Manuscripts from Private Collections, Muslim Subjectivity and the Culture of Sainthood

International studies of manuscripts from the world of Islam pertain of different approaches including palaeography, the study of distinct genres and the analysis of works by individual authors or groups of authors. Often, these approaches focus on the manuscript works, their authors or the intellectual history of a particular area. The statistical analysis of the genre diversity within a private collection shows the peculiarities of their collection through the subjectivity of their owners. The different genre of collections of manuscripts is due to the influence of different ideological schools, currents, changes and perceptions of new educational institutions and ideas on a single individual, which ultimately affects the formation of his or her own, independent collection. Based on a statistical analysis of the repertoire of several private manuscript collections in Dagestan, the presentation will describe the peculiarities of the subjectivity of owners in a forming their own manuscript collections.

Lunch on site (13.00–14.30)

14.30–15.15 Allen J. FRANK

(Independent Researcher)

Ak Ishan: An Ahal Teke Hagiography of the Niyazov Era

Turkmenistan, like the other former Soviet republics of Central Asia, has undergone its own variety of ‘re-Islamisation’ since the late 1980s. The difficulty of doing research in Turkmenistan, and the small number of religious publications, especially after 2000, have not encouraged or facilitated the study of Turkmen religious practice, even though it is generally recognized that shrine pilgrimage and Sufi practices in general are particularly important for Turkmen religious life and social organisation. One of our only insights into literary sources on Turkmen pilgrimage is a verse hagiography published as a 35-page pamphlet titled Ak Ishan, containing a verse hagiography of an Ahal-Teke tribe’s saint who lived in the first half of the 19th century. Today the shrine of Ak Ishan is one of the most important shrines in Turkmenistan, in part because of its location near the capital of Ashgabat. While the shrine has been described in varying degrees of detail by Soviet ethnographers, its hagiographical context is largely unknown outside of this document. The Turkmen-language verse hagiography, written by an otherwise unknown poet, appears based largely on Ahal Teke oral tradition detailing Ak Ishan’s miracles, his life as a student and courtier in Khiva, and the political relationships and military conflicts between the Ahal Tekes and the Khanate of Khiva.


(Heidelberg U. & GSRL)

15.15–17.15 Open Discussion 1: On the individual research of the project members, and the organisation of fieldworks for 2022 and 2023.


Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Session 2: Hagiography as a Genre

09.00–09.45 Sultonbek AKSAKOLOV

(U. of Central Asia, Khorog)

The Modern Men of God in the Devotional Literature of the Ismailis of Badakhshan, Tajikistan

Men of God are celebrated in various ways among the Ismaili Shias of Badakhshan, in present-day Tajikistan. The present lecture will analyse a selection of poems and narratives of the late Soviet and current periods. Background information on the religious history and landscape of the region will be followed by the exploration of texts dedicated to religious leaders active in the long twentieth century. We will see, notably, how the mutation of the religious sphere, from the 1980s onwards, has impacted the amount, form and content of Ismaili Shia hagiographic literature produced in Badakhshan. We will observe the interactions, in this production, of sacred lineages and current religious leaders, on the first hand, with secular-background authors on the other, and its consequences on the recent evolution of literary genres.

Margherita TRENTO


09.45–10.30 Timothy GROSE

(Rose Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, IN)

Secular Saints of Xinjiang: Qurban Tulum and Creating ‘Hagiographies’ for Ethnic Unity Exemplars

In its ongoing nation-building project in the Uyghur homeland, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has imposed a series of policies intended to destroy and replace local (Uyghur: yärlik) knowledge systems and attachments to the land. Throughout this often violent political programme, the party-state has erased, desecrated and repurposed sacred sites — many of which are shrines of local saints — and suppressed their rich histories. Meanwhile, the CCP has anointed its own Uyghur exemplars whose lives embody ‘core socialist values’ (Ch. 社会主义核心价值观). The most well-known of such figures is Qurban Tulum. Drawing upon state-published Uyghur language story series — ‘Ethnic Unity Stories’ (Uyghur Millätlär ittipaqliqi häqqidä hekayä) and ‘Bilingual Xinjiang Pictorial Histories’ (Shinjang tarihigha qosh tilliq räsimlik kitablar) — official documentaries/films, state media and ethnographic research from 2010–17, this talk will introduce Uyghur ‘secular saints’, highlight similarities between their biographies and popular hagiographies and discuss the Party’s strategies for promoting these stories before turning to local receptions of these figures.

Coffee Break (10.30–10.45)

10.45–11.30 Nathalie CLAYER


Making Sufi Sainthood in Post-Socialist Albania

In order to contribute to the understanding of the production of sainthood in the socialist and post-socialist realm, I will study the making of the sainthood, in post-socialist Albania, of a particular figure: that of Ahmat Myftar Dede, the spiritual leader who became the head of the Bektashi order of dervishes between 1948 and 1958 – that is, under the communist power, before being removed from this position and before the ban of religion in 1967. The questioning will focus on the media and genres (collections of memories and testimonies; studies; documentaries; television programmes, statuaries, declarations, etc.) used to forge and disseminate his sanctity, and on the continuities and discontinuities in relation to traditional hagiographical genres such as the menakibname (for example, the issue of dreams, keramet, healing, etc.; the vocabulary related to the sainthood, etc.; the presence of a national and political dimension). I will also be interested in the producers, seeking to understand the socio-political forces behind this production. Finally, I will pay particular attention to the memory of communism that permeates this production.



11.30–12.15 Ulan BIGOZHIN

(Nazarbayev U., Nursultan)

Muslim Sainthood and Qazaq Nationhood: Literary and Other Hagiographies of Khorasan Ata

This paper will focus on the expanding genre of hagiography, through traditions on the saint (awliya) Abd Zhalil Bab, alias Khorasan Ata, whose shrine is located near the village of Zhan Qorghan, in the Qïzïl Orda Region. A prominent holy figure of southern Qazaqstan, Khorasan Ata is seen as a legendary spreader of Islam. As such, he is celebrated as the great ancestor of a sayyid/khwaja (Qaz. qoja) sacred lineage: the Khorasani Qojas, one of the largest groups among the region’s sacred families, established near Zhan Qorghan. His shrine complex has gone through a series of reconstructions in the Soviet period and in the 1990s–2000s, under the patronage of regional socio-political elites and, recently, the international uranium mining company KazAtomProm. Today, it consists of large guest houses for pilgrims, a garden, cooking places and other facilities. Along with their shrine keeping attributions, the Khorasanis and other protagonists show active in the publication of life stories and genealogies (nasabnamas) on Abd Zhalil Bab. More often than not, this literature reflects the specific hybridity of the nation-state-building ideology of Qazaqstan.

12.15–13.00 Open Discussion 2: On the Planning of Workshop 2 and of the Project’s First Publications

Lunch on site (13.00–14.30)

14.30–15.15 Eric SCHLUESSEL

(George Washington U., DC)

Battered by the Storms of Feudalism: The Body of an Uyghur National Saint

A peculiar manuscript dated to 1960 tells the famous story of Anarkhan, an Uyghur woman who legendarily struggled against feudalism in the years immediately before Liberation — but this is a different story. This Anarkhan is not a triumphant hero, but a tragic figure, whose story plays out against the backdrop of tyrannical rule in 1920s Kashgar, and it ends with Anarkhan’s suicide and transformation into an otherworldly figure who bids others to join her in death. This talk attempts to make sense of this story as one of national tragedy told in part through the tropes of Central Asian Islamic hagiography, but with a reflection upon the conditions of the Great Leap Forward and the language of historical materialism.


Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Session 3: Adjustments to Marxist-Leninist Contexts

09.00–09.45 Alexandre PAPAS


The Historical Novel about Satuq Bughra Khan by Säypidin Äzizi: A Founding Text

A huge historical novel (tarikhi romani) about Satuq Bughra Khan written in Uyghur has been published in 1987. His author was Säypidin Äzizi (1915-2003), the famous first chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. The interest of the book lies in the fact that Äzizi seeks to present the reign of the Qarakhanid ruler Satuq Bughra as a period of progress for Uyghur civilization, if not as a golden age. For the author, three characteristics of his reign should be stressed: Satuq Bughra advanced feudalism through new social rules; by favouring Islam he unified Uyghur society and culture; lastly, he modified the legal system, for example the civil code and the taxation system. My paper does aim to assess the historical reliability of the book, which is simply not a scholarly work but a novel. After detailing the biography of Äzizi, I will describe the contents of his work and discuss what is really at stake, namely the contemporary reconstruction of a mediaeval holy figure and the birth of a Uyghur red golden legend.

Detelina TOCHEVA


09.45–10.30 Flora ROBERTS

(U. of Cardiff)

A Soviet Sufi of Leninabad: Apologia and Self-Fashioning 

The basis for this presentation is the Tajik Persian-language volume Piri Tariqat: Mazhari oyot va majmai karomot, self-published in Khujand in 2010 by the Naqshbandi shaykh Muhammadalikhon Homidkhon-zoda. The elder of the Sufi tariqat, born in Khujand in 1927, traces his descent from Hajji Safa Wali, whose tomb is in Samarqand. Like many other khwajas of his generation in Khujand, he lost his father at an early age to the Stalinist purges. His life story, related in this volume, displays characteristics both of a secular Soviet avtobiografiia and of Sufi hagiographies. His life trajectory provides a clear illustration of the role of the enduring social value of ancestry in the post-war moral economy of Tajikistan. Muhammadalikhon Homidkhonzoda attempted to compensate for the loss to his religious education suffered after his father’s premature demise, by making connections with GULAG returnees who had been exiled for their faith and Islamic learning, and laid claim to his ancestral charisma by leading a Sufi circle and what he described as a healing centre (qalandarkhona) in his native Leninobod/Khujand. His position at the head of the qalandarkhona attracted negative attention from Soviet authorities, leading to his arrest and imprisonment in the 1980s, but also earned him considerable respect and protection from some highly placed clients. He spent the latter decades of his life in the attempt to recover and rebuild his family’s Sufi legacy, struggling to overcome the tragedy of the loss of his father and the concomitant loss of religious knowledge and experience of Sufi practices. As his autobiography shows, however, Muhammadalikhon’s rejection of the values of Soviet society was neither complete nor definitive, but rather seems to have been the product of a complex journey, undertaken only following significant emotional and ideological investment into the regime.  In his autobiography, he emphasizes as a point of pride that he was never unemployed, but always actively sought and maintained employment within the Soviet state.  As a child, he had close friends who were Russian, Uzbek and Tajik, and learned to speak all three languages fluently.

Coffee Break (10.30–10.45)

10.45–11.30 Gianfranco BRIA

(U. Rome La Sapienza)

Sainthood, Nation, Labour: Dervish Luzha between Communist Legacy and Post-Communist Reinvention

Dervish Luzha (1904–1985) was a Khalwati Sufi who fought against the Nazi-Fascists in Kosovo and Albania during World War II. Respected when alive, he was enshrined as a local and national hero in the post-communist era, for his heroic deeds, regardless of his dealings with the communist regime. The religious and political authorities promoted Luzha’s sanctification by building him a mausoleum and organising pilgrimages in his honour. A major written hagiographic and iconographic production on Luzha occurred, too, which celebrated him as: a holy man (Sufi), a patriot (ardent fighter and nation defender) and a social worker. These attributes are combined with three different levels of hagiographic elaboration (local, national and transnational). Starting from the analysis of his two main written hagiographies, this paper aims to analyse how Luzha’s hagiography is entangled with religious/sacred reinvention and nationalistic genealogies reshaping in the post-socialist era.


(EPHE/GSRL, Paris)

11.30–12.15 WANG Jianxin

(Lanzhou U.)


Chinese-Language Muslim Hagiography and Sermon Literature: In the Lingmingtang Sufi Order

Part of the author’s research on Islam in China is a study of the theological sources and literary styles of written teaching in the ‘Four Great Sufi Orders’ (Sida Menhuan). A number of sermons (khutbas) in verse have been collected in past decades, written by these turuq’s guides and literati. In the routines of the Lingmingtang Order as of others, these sermons are still regarded as an important part of the Islamic tradition (sunna) inherited from the age of Prophet Muhammad. Delivered on Friday prayers, at Muslim festivals or ominous events such as eclipses or droughts. Lingmingtang’s orators include in their discourse verses intended to facilitate Sufi teaching. They inform us, too, on these discourses’ theological bases, and or their adjustment to specific historical contexts. This presentation will cast light on the interrelations between the order’s Sufi tradition and Confucian and Daoist legacies, through a poem attributed to the order’s founder: ‘Monumenta of Master Lingming’ (Lingming Shangren Luezhuan), as a preliminary to the study of the corpus.

12.15–13.00 Marie-Paule HILLE


Refunding Muslim Sainthood in Post-Maoist China: An Overview of Shaykh Min Shengguang’s Sermons (1978, 1984,1994, 2004)

This presentation is based on the study of four sermons delivered by Hajj Muhammad Nūr al Dīn Min Shengguang (1935-2020), the Fifth Shaykh of the Xidaotang. The 1978 sermon marks the end of two dark decades during which Min Shengguang experienced long periods of imprisonment. This sermon, Min Shengguang’s first to the community, is intended to be a re-founding sermon. The other three sermons (1984, 1994 and 2004) were given on the occasion of the death anniversary of the founding Saint Ma Qixi (1857-1914). An analysis of these sermons highlights Min Shengguang’s efforts to restore the legacy of Xidaotang and to rebuild his community. In a subtler way, they provide insight into the use of the past and the tradition, the relationship to politic rhetoric and the way in which the religious message is readjusted with each generation. We will try to understand the leverages, especially hagiographic, that have enabled this community to be reawakened in the post-Maoist period.

Lunch on site (13.00–14.30)

14.30–15.15 Aaron GLASSERMAN

(Harvard, Cambridge, MA)


The Many Lives of Master She Yunshan

In different chapters of Hui (Chinese Muslim) lore and literature, She Yunshan (1630-1703) appears as a mystic or philologer, an outcast truth teller or charismatic teacher, an eclectic or a fundamentalist, an innovator of religion or a preserver of it. Despite the variety of roles, the drama always involves a relationship, sometimes amicable, sometimes antagonistic, between the itinerant master of scripture and the local people with their way of doing things. This talk will examine several of these representations of Master She Yunshan and consider the contexts in which particular configurations of the relationship between what is locally practiced and what is scripturally prescribed became salient.



14.30–16.00 Open Discussion 3: On the Planning of the Exhibition of Cloture of the Project (2024) and of pull-out projects
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