Introducing the Scholars of Central Asia Book Database 

The Scholars of Central Asia Book Database is intended to showcase the research of scholars from each of the Central Asian republics and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The database currently contains 121 non-fiction books written by local authors working in the humanities and social sciences. This collection demonstrates the richness and diversity of academic knowledge being produced by scholars from the region and reinforces the need for a wider exchange of ideas in the field. 

At present, global knowledge production is hierarchical, with Western scholars and approaches remaining dominant in the academic marketplace of ideas. Scholars from the “Global South,” including Central Asia, often find themselves marginalized, involved in data collection but not theorization and analysis. This leaves many in Central Asia feeling that academia fuels the “production of knowledge about us, but not for us,” as Syinat Sultanalieva writes. Not all academics from the global north are guilty of reinforcing this dynamic, and many do participate in “co-production” of research, but still, many scholars from Central Asia continue to have fewer resources at their disposal. Problematically, such scholars lack access to research funding and paid sabbaticals to be given the time to write a book, as well as facing limitations on the range of topics they can work on due to political crackdowns on academic freedom. Despite these challenges, scholars from Central Asia continue to produce vital research on an impressive range of topics. 

Of the 121 entries in the database, 36 percent are written by women, including books on topics ranging from police reform and women Sufis to Kazakh literature and de-colonial art. The database contains relatively few works in local languages however – this likely reflects the limitations of our database rather than a lack of books in local languages. Recent efforts to help develop more local language academic content, including the launch of the Central Asia Almanac, a new Kyrgyz and Kazakh language academic journal, will hopefully help to develop much needed scholarship in these languages. Over half of the entries in the Scholars of Central Asia Book Database are written in English, with seven of these published in university presses generally viewed in Western academia as the most prestigious places to publish. In close second, Russian language materials account for forty three percent of the total, a language many researchers view as colonial, and symbolizes the established ascendancy of Russian academia in the region. The remaining books have been published in local languages, including Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uyghur and Uzbek.

Our catalogue of English language books is likely the most complete. Over half of the books published in English were authored by academics based outside of the region, including all those who published in the university presses. Those based outside the region in North America, East Asia, and Europe, are usually expected to teach and publish in English, and are often afforded with additional time and resources to produce their work. Just over half of those publishing in English were by women and just under half were from Kazakhstan. This may be a result of the existence of additional funding for academic research in Kazakhstan and the existence of scholarship programs such as Bolashak that allow students to study abroad and build academic networks. Reflecting the difficulties facing academics and researchers from Turkmenistan, none were published from there. 

While the dataset is in no way complete, history (with 42 entries), politics (with 34 entries) and international relations (with 27 entries) are the most common themes in the scholarship recorded so far. With 37 entries, Kazakhstan remains the country of focus with the most entries recorded in the initial database. Part of the scholarship covers themes that are common among foreign scholars such as security, extremism, migration, and state-building processes. But local scholars are also working on important themes often overlooked by western scholarship. Local scholars can speak to themes such as marginalization in global hierarchies of knowledge production, drawing on their personal experiences of colonial legacies. Recent works at the intersection of post-colonial identity and art, on women’s social status, and on material and spiritual culture make a contribution to previously under researched themes. 

The database also contains a small number of Uyghur language materials which we hope to heavily expand on over the coming year. The Uyghur scholars in our database have all faced difficult challenges, including arrest and intimidation during their careers, and one scholar has been missing since 2017. According to the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), there are at least 435 Uyghur scholars and intellectuals who have been forcibly detained or disappeared in the XUAR since China embarked on a campaign of mass repression that year. Among the disappeared scholars in our dataset is renowned anthropologist Rahile Dawut, who has authored vital works on local religious customs and cultural practice in Xinjiang. Though the scale of repression is unprecedented today, conducting research in the XUAR has long been difficult and high risk, with large numbers of Uyghurs and PRC citizens working on the region writing under pseudonyms, such as Tohti Tunyaz, who published his seminal work “Medieval Uyghur History” under the pen name “Muzart.” His work can be found within our database. 

Our intention is to continue to add to the Scholars of Central Asia Book Database, filling the missing gaps and adding new books as they are published. We hope that it becomes a resource through which those interested in Central Asia can have access to more perspectives from the region. Like other Oxus projects, we intend this to be collaborative, welcoming feedback and suggested additions.