Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies
Professor Yasmin Saikia is the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and a Professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Her research and teaching interests invoke a dynamic transnational and interdisciplinary dialogue situated at the intersection of history, culture and religion. With a specific focus on contestations and accommodations in South Asia between local, national and religious identities, she examines the Muslim experience in India, Pakistan, and Bangaldesh, and the discourse of nonviolence alongside the practice of violence against women and vulnerable groups.
In her first two books, In the Meadows of Gold: Telling Tales of the Swargadeos at the Crossroads of Assam (1997) and Fragmented Memories: Struggling to Become Tai-Ahom in India (2004), Prof. Saikia examines the connections between Assam and India as well as Assam’s Southeast Asian neighbors, particularly Thailand, through a study of buranjis (pre-modern local chronicles of the Ahom kingdom) and colonial and post-colonial records, including scholarly and militant networks. In these two books, she shows how revived memories of the thirteenth century serve as a site in present-day Assam for crafting a new Tai-Ahom cultural and political identity that questions Indian national identity and, in turn, generates linkages with pan-Tai identity movements.
More recently, Prof. Saikia has focused on Muslim histories and identities in the subcontinent. A three-year oral history project focusing on the Bangladesh war of 1971 led to a recently completed book, Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971 (Duke University Press, Durham/Women Unlimited, New Delhi, 2011) in which she examines how women experience post-colonial nation building, and tell, in fractured narratives, a story of violence hidden in the official histories of South Asia. Combining oral interviews with archival research in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Prof. Saikia shows how the enduring language of insāniyat (humanity) enables the divided Muslim communities in the subcontinent to make sense of their identity beyond the violence of nation-building, state and religion, probing the possibility of whether dialogue on violence can serve as a transformative site for developing an ethics and language of reconciliation between victims and perpetrators.
She currently directs the “Learning Peace and Violence” project, whose goal is to advance knowledge and understanding about children’s learning processes and socialization toward peace and violence in India. In the coming years, she will expand the research to include Pakistani children’s attitude and experience of peace and violence. Research will be conducted by analyzing how messages about peace and war are conveyed in children’s TV programs, serials, cartoons, regional and national celebratory events, stories and popular folk-tales, and historical stories taught in school. In its initial stage, this longitudinal study of children's attitudes will involve extensive interviewing with community members and families in India and Pakistan over a ten year period to explore how lessons of peace and violence are taught, transmitted and delivered to children who act on them as both agents and perpetrators in their surroundings. The long term goal of the project is to understand how education within and outside the classroom impact young minds and shape them as adults for rethinking a curriculum that emphasizes the study of peace as a salient component.
Her dedication and commitment to peace studies extends well beyond the classroom. For almost a decade she has worked in Bangladesh with the victims of 1971 not just as a researcher, but actively facilitating their representation to local authorities like the Ain-o-Salish Kendra (Law and Advocacy Center) and Mukti Judha Sangsad (Liberation War Forum), in Dhaka. She also takes pride in her community service and participation in student organizations. While at UNC-Chapel Hill she helped organize fund raising events for the earthquake victims in Pakistan, advised a women’s community organization (KIRAN), advised the Bangladeshi students association (AASHA), and became a founding member of the Pakistan America Coalition for Education (PACE). She is also actively involved in inter-faith and inter-community dialogues.
Prof. Saikia is excited to bring her expertise and innovative teaching techniques to Arizona State University, where her courses will help students understand peace as a dynamic process touching on dimensions that range from the inner to the interpersonal, and from the intergroup to the international. To encourage student participation she has developed several new classes that have never before been offered at ASU, covering topics ranging from Gandi and the politics of non-violence to Muslim women’s peace movements. She is developing a new course on the history of Pakistan, which is a rare offering in an American university. As the first holder of the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and a Professor of History within the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, she will be working to help build peace studies at Arizona State University.