Wladimir Ivanow & Modern Ismaili Studies

1 December 2021 – 31 March 2022

This exhibition follows the pioneering Russian scholar of Ismaili studies, Wladimir Ivanow (1886 – 1970) across the Muslim world. His life and work traced the contours of a transformative and decisive period in modern history – engulfing revolution and the struggle against European empires, as well as their dissolution into new nations. During this period there was also a significant shift in the academic study of Islam, and of Ismaili Shi’ism in particular.

Whether it was the British presence in India or the Russian presence in Central Asia, what was then called “orientalism” came to dominate the study of Islam and Muslims. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, Muslim communities were no longer tied to polemical or fantastical orientalist accounts of the ‘other’, and increasingly began to inform and even direct the study of their tradition in unprecedented ways.

From his early travels in Iran to his arrival and settlement in Bombay and entanglements with its various Muslim communities, Wladimir Ivanow and Modern Ismaili Studies positions this scholar and his research at the very heart of this transformative period. The exhibition illustrates the historical contexts of the period but also hopes to shed light on how Ivanow’s life was directed by his chosen field of study: Ismaili history and thought. Drawing on archival material, photography from the period, and Ivanow’s own collection of manuscripts, the exhibition will also provide an introduction to the history of modern Ismaili studies and implicitly some features of the history of the Ismailis.

This exhibition is supported by The Institute of Ismaili Studies