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REINVENTING EURASIAN IDENTITIES: GHENGIS KHAN REVISITED (A Khan Kahn)

Organizing Fellows:
  Jamie Hubbard (Religion)
  Sergey Glebov (History)

The idea of a national identity as  “constructed,” “competing,” or “imagined” is not new, yet it remains deeply relevant in the world today: The posturing and image-creation at play during the Olympic Games in Beijing took the discussion of national identity well outside academic circles, and the horrific carnage in Georgia vividly brings home the critical importance of the topic. New visions of “national identity” regularly emerge across the world, often presaged by disaster and accompanied by warfare. Who creates these new and competing nationalist projects? What sorts of strategies are used to communicate visions of national identity (e.g., speeches, pamphlets, visual culture, music, the news media, film, social networking on the Internet)? Why are some national identities more successful and enduring than others and why are people willing to fight and die for them?  These are questions that are raised in many  academic disciplines, including  history, religious studies, media and film studies, economics, and many of the other social sciences.

This short-term Kahn Institute project will look specifically at exuberantly competing versions of national identity that are at play in one particular area of the world: contemporary, post-Soviet Mongolia. Exploring national identity through the lens of the Mongol empire makes sense for several reasons. First of all, the rich and complex Mongol history (specifically, the empire of Chinggis Khan) continues to fascinate scholars today. But the story of modern-day Mongolian statehood is also compelling. Mongolia was one of the first communist nations in the world. Situated between two giant world powers that are often at odds, Mongolia has played an important and strategic role in twentieth-century geo-politics. Mongolia was the first post-communist nation in Asia, and its historical legacy is at the very center of the battle for a usable past waged by the newly independent states and autonomous regions in Eurasia.

The work of the project will focus on three major themes: 1) a theoretical component in which we talk generally about national identity, strategies of constructing them, and the notion of their legitimacy; 2) an historical consideration of the Mongol Empire, in which we use the story of the Chinggis Khan and his legacy to explore the concrete geography and competing notions of "Eurasia"; and 3) a contemporary exploration of post-Soviet constructions of national identity in Mongolia and the region.

These three strands of inquiry will be explored through readings, visiting speakers and through viewing three films dealing with Chinggis Khan and contemporary Mongolia. The films themselves enact, through their conflicting depictions of both Chinggis Khan and Mongolia, the ways in which contrary visions of national identity get defined and disseminated.

The project will meet in three group sessions, with several film screenings available to allow participants to view the three films at a time that fits with their schedule. All project activities will take place at the Kahn Liberal Arts Institute in Neilson Library.

This Kahn Liberal Arts Institute project will take place very close to a major international symposium on the rebirth of Buddhism in post-Soviet Asia, focusing on Mongolia. This Five College project will be hosted at Smith College March 27-March 29, 2009 (see the Web site at http://www.smith.edu/buddhism/mongolia/ for more information).

Project Fellows

  • Jamie Hubbard, Religion, Organizing Fellow
  • Sergey Glebov, History, Organizing Fellow
  • Darcy Buerkle, History
  • Peter Gregory, Religion
  • Maki Hubbard, East Asian Languages & Literature
  • Richard Lim, History
  • Suleiman Mourad, Religion
  • Andy Rotman, Religion
  • Katherine Schneider, Art
  • Rick Taupier, Associate Director for International Studies, UMASS
  • Frank Ward, Photography, HCC
  • Saleema Waraich, Art

Project Schedule

  • Monday, March 23: 4:30-6 pm: Book discussion; 6-7 pm, dinner at the Kahn Institute

  • Thursday, March 26: 5-6 pm: Dinner at the Kahn Institute; 6-9 pm: Presentations by Christopher Kapolonski and Munkh-Erdene Lhamsuren

  • Monday, March 30: Screening of Mongol at the Kahn Institute

  • Wednesday, April 1: Screening of Khadak at the Kahn Institute

  • Friday, April 3: Screening of film 3: title TBA

  • Friday, April 10: 2-4:00 pm (Wrap-up meeting)

Visiting Scholars for the Project

Christopher Kaplonski is a Senior Research Associate at the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit/Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in the UK. He is also Project Manager for the international project, The Oral History of Twentieth Century Mongolia. He has conducted extensive research in Mongolia since the beginning of the country’s transition from socialism in the early 1990s, and has written extensively on political violence, on the Mongols’ understandings of democracy, and on memory and identity after socialism, including issues related to Chinggis Khan. His book, Truth, History and Politics in Mongolia: The Memories of Heroes examines the rethinking of Mongolian identity and the use of historical imagery in the aftermath of the democratic revolution of 1990. His current project, The Death of the Buddhist State: Violence and Sovereignty in Early Socialist Mongolia, looks at the power struggles between the early socialist state and the Buddhist establishment from anthropological perspective.

Mr. Kaplonski received his MA and PhD in anthropology from Rutgers University and holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He also spent two years teaching at the National University of Mongolia.

Munkh-Erdene Lhamsuren is currently a Humanities and International Studies Fellow in the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Stanford University; he is also a Professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the National University of Mongolia. His current project, entitled Enmity of Independency: Ethnic and National Identities in Mongolia,” explores the dynamics of the emergence, formation and continuity of Mongolian national, ethnic, and sub-ethnic identities. He has researched and published extensively on the Mongolian national identity from the period of Chinggis Khan through the twentieth century
.
Mr. Lhamsuren received his PhD from Hokkaido University in Japan; he also holds an MA and a BA from the National University of Mongolia. He is especially interested in collective identity, ethnicity, and nationalism.

Project Reading

All Fellows should read the book Ghengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford before the first session on March 23.

 

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