The Alternative Histories of Muslim Asia’s Urban Centres: De-Cosmopolitanisation and Beyond


  • Magnus Marsden University of Sussex



city, cosmopolitanism, ethno-religious minorities, Afghanistan, commerce


Historians increasingly analyse the cultural diversity of life in the Afro-Eurasian arena of ‘Muslim dominion’ in terms of its cosmopolitanism. By contrast, critical scholarship has recently brought attention to declining levels of religious diversity in present-day Muslim Asia – a term that refers to Asia’s Muslimmajority population zones. This article, by contrast, explores the ongoing legacy of urban cosmopolitanism in Muslim Asia. It focuses on a small but lively community of Jews from the Afghan cities of Kabul and Herat, and does so in comparison to a considerably larger community of Jews from formerly Soviet Central Asian Republics, especially Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, who identify themselves as ‘Bukharan’. Investigating ethnographic material relating to Afghan and Bukharan Jewish communities based in New York, the article sheds light on an alternative and ongoing history of cosmopolitanism in Muslim Asia. More broadly, it also argues that field research amongst migrant and diasporic communities from Muslim Asia living in the West can offer important insights into the afterlives of the region’s historic cities.

Author Biography

Magnus Marsden, University of Sussex

Magnus Marsden is Professor of Social Anthropology and Director of the Asia Centre at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex. He is the author of several ethnographic monographs, including, most recently Trading Worlds: Afghan Merchants across Modern Frontiers (Oxford, 2016). E-mail:


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