Gurdofarid at the British Library in London.
Click to enlarge photographGurdofarid Miskinzoda (TSP/ISP 95-00) has BA and MA degrees in Arabic Studies from Moscow State University and a PhD in the History of the Near and Middle East from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She is currently a Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.
I was born in Khorog, Tajikistan, while it was still part of the Soviet Union, and although my immediate family consisted only of my parents and sister, I have always been part of a larger extended family. My sister and I grew up surrounded by uncles, aunts and cousins, both in Khorog and my father’s village of Pish. My father, who was a great influence in my life, passed away when I was 16 and my mother, a doctor by profession, took care of us after that.
As a child, I was committed to education and was extremely active at school. For a long time I wanted to be a biologist and was quite strong in the sciences and mathematics. A year before finishing school, however, I changed my mind in a dramatic fashion and decided to go for Arabic Studies. I wished to study the history of Islam as well as religion and theology in general. At the time, these subjects were taught in the Arabic Studies department and so I joined the Oriental Faculty of the Tajik State University. I was influenced in this choice mainly by my father’s interest in these topics and his untimely death, and my own intellectual and spiritual quest.
In 1995 I was granted a scholarship by the Aga Khan Foundation to study at the Institute of Asian and African Countries of the Moscow State University. This scholarship changed my life and gave me the opportunity to study in the most prestigious academic institution in Russia. I had the privilege of studying with renowned and talented scholars, whose knowledge and nurturing paved the way for my future in Islamic Studies and academia in general. It was there that I developed a keen interest in the study of the Muslim historical and literary tradition. After my first degree, I started an MA in Arabic Studies at the same university and also applied to the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London (IIS), where I was accepted in 1999. That programme was another life changing experience. One of my professors, Gerald R. Hawting of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), encouraged me and accepted to supervise me for doctoral studies at SOAS. While doing my PhD, I also had the opportunity to teach various courses on the history of the Near and Middle East and the development of Islam.
I completed my doctoral studies in 2007 and then joined the IIS as a Research Associate. At present I am engaged in research projects and teaching as well as an exciting new venture, the Shi‘i Studies programme. As the Shi‘i Studies Coordinator, I help to develop the Shi‘i Studies strategy and oversee various projects connected with the programme.
An academic career, like the one I have embarked on, is not easy. For young people starting out in my field, I would advise that in academia in general, but particularly in Islamic Studies, they should prepare for the future quite early. A good command of languages relevant to the field is essential, because working with primary sources is crucial. To achieve this one needs to devote a lot of time and effort to studying languages. In addition, while undertaking postgraduate studies, it is very important to network with peers and colleagues in the field through seminars, conferences, workshops, networking lists and publications.
In thinking of the future, I would like to publish parts of my doctoral thesis in peer reviewed journals, and at IIS, I am very much involved with the new Shi‘i Studies programme and look forward to its successful development. There are also many opportunities at IIS for publishing and working with external leading scholars and academic institutions, and I am trying to take advantage of such opportunities to develop my career.
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