Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2015

Katherine Miller

Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Reed College

Materializing Multiple Histories: The Ehics and Politics of Life Amid ongoing Cultural Heritage Management in Hunza, Northern Pakistan

This paper considers the way that Isma‘ili Muslims in Hunza, Northern Pakistan ethically relate to and reflect on the multiplicity of historical pasts and possible futures materialized within the fabric of their village, itself a cultural heritage landmark. In Hunza, where the primary development agencies are affiliated with the leadership of the transnational Nizari Isma‘ili Muslim community, international development has an explicitly moral dimension. In this context, the rehabilitation and management of material heritage links din aur dunya (“religion and the world”) in a uniquely tangible way, rendering concrete the often-cited relationship between “spiritual and material development.” As a cultural heritage site, however, the village is neither homogenous nor monovocal: its structures invoke multiple histories in tension with one another, and have different values and valences for the several constituencies involved. At stake in practices of living within, representing and collectively managing the built environment are questions of moral significance: hierarchy versus equality; individual status versus mutual help and care; global aspirations versus local autonomy. While ethics is sometimes thought of as future-oriented, critically reflexive or transcendent with respect to the immanence of everyday life and lived relationships, in this paper I consider how sense of ethical possibility can be generatively linked to the embodied practices in lived space.

Katherine Miller is visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Reed College. Her research interests include the anthropological study of ethics and morality, international development, Islam (with a focus on Nizari Isma’ili Shi‘ism), cultural change, labor and volunteerism. Her research explores the complex politics, ethics and temporalities of international development in Hunza, Northern Pakistan, where development has been embraced as a project of moral and spiritual as much as material transformation. The recently completed dissertation arising from this research moves from transformations in local practices of collective labor to the history of modern Isma‘ilism to contemporary development concerns such as education, entrepreneurship and cultural heritage management.