PhD position 'The Muslim Individual in Imperial and Soviet Russia' University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Humanities – Amsterdam School for Regional and Transnational and European Studies Netherlands

PhD position 'The Muslim Individual in Imperial and Soviet Russia

Faculty of Humanities – Amsterdam School for Regional and Transnational and European Studies


Publication date 7 March 2019
Closing date 28 April 2019
Level of education Master's degree
Hours 38 hours per week
Salary indication €2,325 to €2,972 gross per month
Vacancy number 19-149


Research at the Faculty of Humanities is carried out by six research schools under the aegis of the Amsterdam Institute of Humanistic Research. The Amsterdam School for Regional and Transnational and European Studies, one of the six research schools, currently has two vacant PhD positions as part of the ERC-funded project MIND: The Muslim Individual in Imperial and Soviet Russia, led by dr Alfrid Bustanov (University of Amsterdam). Applications are now invited from excellent candidates who wish to conduct research on the history of Muslim subjectivity in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.


Project description

For European historiography, it is self-evident that diaries, correspondences, and other personal documents provide crucial insights not only into how individuals thought about certain issues, but also in how the authors expressed their individuality, and how they saw their active role in history. This holds true both for prominent and ordinary persons, and for a whole variety of genres. In the historiography of Muslim societies, expressions of individuality are rarely ever problematized; the individual is often seen merely as part of a faith community, and the writings of individuals are more often than not just treated as a source for factual information on Islam, politics, or broader social phenomena, not as an effort of personal self-reflection. By analyzing practices of individualization in the personal archives of Muslims in Russia, this program places the Muslim subject at the center. How does a person engage with the Islamic tradition, with the demands of the state and the non-Muslim majority society, but also with other individuals, to design his or her conception of the self (Ar., shakhsiyya)?


PhD Project I: Writing the Muslim Subject

The PhD subproject looks at the interplay of public and private dimensions in self-narratives, on the basis of autobiographies and memoirs preserved in public and private collections in Russia. Here the central thesis is that autobiographers found themselves in a field of tension between several standards. On the one hand, autobiography-writing was designed according to the biographical genre; on the other, also the bureaucracies of Tsarist and Soviet Russia routinely demanded autobiographical writing – at school, when applying for employment, when writing a petition, or when interrogated by the police or secret services. In the USSR, Muslim citizens were generally expected to regularly produce autobiographies in which they reflected on their personal progress towards the correct socialist mindset. One challenge here is the problematic relation between the public and the inner world of the individual: official autobiographies written in “Islamic languages” like Tatar and Bashkir could follow the state formats, while also Russophone writings or their translations could reveal a Muslim author’s internalization of religious values. Research will be based on the close reading of texts and the study of narrative structures, styles and language strategies that made the author’s “I” so prominent.


PhD Project II: Languages of Muslim Visuality

The goal is to reveal the Muslim photographer's strategy of visualizing the self and others; thereby we approach the subjectivity not only of the photographer but also of his/her objects, as well as of the owners of the photograph collections. The subproject reveals a symbolic language of Muslim visuality. This language directly interacts with the expressions of subjectivity studied in the other SPs of this program. Photos express ideals of morality and personal self-realization as well as accomplishment in family and social life. In photos, particular elements and tropes are recognizable to a given audience just as words in a language; what interests us is the "grammar" of the individual photos, the "syntax" of that symbolic language in photo collections, and how “visual lexicons” from different registers are combined to express Muslim individuality. This subproject is thus aimed at the analysis of rich archival sources present in the state and private collections across the Russian Federation (and partly in Central Asia), consisting of family photoalbums, official footages of Islamic rituals or of visiting foreign delegations, as well as individual photographs and their sets produced by external observers and Muslims alike. This project builds upon the rich theoretical research that historicizes visual materials and also looks at them from an anthropological point of view.


Tasks of the two PhD candidates will include:

  • completion and defense of a PhD thesis within four years;
  • regular presentations of intermediate research results at workshops and conferences;
  • publication of at least one peer-reviewed article;
  • co-organisation of summer schools, expeditions and workshops;
  • participation in the training program of the Graduate School / research school.



The successful applicants must have

  • a completed MA degree (or equivalent) in a relevant field, i.e. history, anthropology, visual studies or philology;
  • a thorough command of English and Russian;
    for PhD Project I: knowledge of Tatar, Arabic or Persian is required;
    for PhD Project II: demonstrable experience with the visual analysis;
  • outstanding research qualities, manifested in a high-quality Master’s thesis;
  • keen interest in interdisciplinary research methods and approaches;
  • ability and willingness to work in a team;
  • willingness to travel abroad for research stays, conferences and summer schools.


Further information

For further information, please contact:

  • dr Alfrid Bustanov



The PhD candidates will be appointed full-time (38 hours per week) for a period of 48 months at the Department of History, European Studies & Religious Studies of the Faculty of Humanities. The research will be carried out under the aegis of ARTES. Initially a contract will be given for 12 months, with an extension for the following 36 months on the basis of a positive evaluation. The intended starting date of the contract is 1 September 2019. The gross monthly salary (on full-time basis) will be €2,325 during the first year to €2,972 during the fourth year, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (Cao NU).


Job application

The UvA is an equal opportunity employer. We celebrate diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all employees. We value a spirit of enquiry and endurance, provide the space to keep asking questions and cherish a diverse atmosphere of curiosity and creativity.


Applications for the PhD position should include:

  • a letter of motivation, stating why you want to do this research (no more than one page). Please explain your preference for one of the PhD projects and state clearly the reference number + PhD -1 or PhD- 2 in the subject;
  • a full academic CV;
  • two letters of recommendation, to be submitted separately to the email address below, clearly indicating the name of the applicant in the subject of the email;
  • a writing sample, e.g. a published paper or a copy of your MA-thesis.


These should be sent electronically in one document, preferably as a pdf-file. Please do not send us additional documentation at this stage.


You may submit your application no later than 28 April 2019 using the link below. Please collect your application into one single pdf file (not zipped) and choose the obliged field ‘ CV’.


Shortlisted candidates will be invited to participate in workshop at the University of Amsterdam in late May 2019. #LI-DNP

No agencies please

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