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Faculty Fall 2019: Jyoti Gulati Balachandran

Scholars on the Move: Islamic Knowledge Production in the Indian Ocean World

Assistant Professor of History

Scholars on the Move: Islamic Knowledge Production in the Indian Ocean World

The sixteenth century in the western Indian Ocean world was a time of intense political realignments and hostilities: the Portuguese, who had recently discovered the direct route to India, ran into conflict with the Sultans of Gujarat over attempts to control the flow of trade in western India. On the other end of the western Indian Ocean, the Ottoman conquest of large parts of the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt meant that the Ottoman Empire was increasingly more invested in ousting the Portuguese, and to this end they even sent military help to the Gujarat Sultans. The implications of the changing political alliances, however, were not limited to the maritime commercial networks between western India and the Red Sea and Persian Gulf regions. They also impacted the travels, scholarly careers and political service of Muslim scholars across the western Indian Ocean world.

Against the evolving context of dominant political alliances and realignments, my research proposes to reconstruct the Muslim scholarly community and the nature of textual production in the sixteenth-century western Indian Ocean world. It breaks away from the boundaries of modern nation-states and their often insular histories, and puts the maritime highway of the western Indian Ocean in center stage to reconstruct the dynamic Islamic scholarly networks in the early modern period.  These networks facilitated considerable mobility of Muslim scholars of varied ancestral, ethnic, spiritual and intellectual dispositions, and promoted the growth of robust debates on Islamic religious and intellectual traditions. Tracing these relationships between South Asia and the Ottoman Empire reveals a heretofore little recognized inter-connected scholarly community of the sixteenth-century western Indian Ocean world. It was a world increasingly reshaped by the activities of new political actors.