Zulfikar Hirji
Department of
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Current Graduate Students (PhD)



PhD Candidate


Isma'ili Muslim Shrines of Badakhshan: Continuity and Change in an Islamic Tradition


My research project deals with the anthropology of religious space and place, issue of agency, and idea of purification. More specifically, I am looking at the transformation of the shrine culture of the Isma’ili Muslims of post-Soviet Tajikistan. I am interested in how the religious places and practices attached to them were perceived during the height of scientific atheism of Soviet period, and how these spaces have survived and have affected people’s understanding of Islam and what it means to a Muslim in the condition of the post-Soviet Tajikistan.




PhD Candidate


State state violence, bordered spaces, and fragmented belonging: the case of apartheid wall in Palestine




MA Candidate


Embodiments of memory & re-member-ing: relational aesthetics among artists of exile and diverse sensory phenomena



As a Master’s student in social anthropology, I examine iterative embodiments of memory (and re-member-ing) within the productions of exilic art. I conduct my work among a group of artists who, through diverse sensory phenomena, perform experiences of witnessing and encountering the political violence of dictatorship, genocide, torture, and war; specifically, in and through mixed media art, installation art, graphic novel, painting, and dance.




This MA research is aspiring to track the roles of memory, affect, and performance in transdisciplinary arts (practices that transcend divisions between mediums). The aesthetic engagements in this project are enacting, what many assume to be, ineffable experiences.  In this field, I research the sensory and generative potentials of testimonial narrative in aesthetic form & activity. I start with certain questions: How does testimonial art bring critical conversation between figural (form connected to sensation) and figurative (representing forms) art?  Can artistic testimonies, including those expressed through images, engender nonrepresentational ventures?  What is the relationship between the past and future in testimonial art; how do they interlace through one another during creative activity? How does exilic art make the public think differently about the practice of memory, the body, the notion of trauma, and perception? How do sensuous memories intersect with traumatic memory, postmemory, intergenerational memory, collective & personal memory? How can memory related to touch, smell, sight, and kinesthesia make unspeakable experiences felt and empathized?




Exploring these questions has deepened my interest in understanding the ontology of artists in exile and what they come to experience in the doing and exhibiting of their work while living in Canada; how their art engenders knowledge making. The artists in this MA research express, through sensory phenomena, material articulations of traumatic historical events. In addressing issues of political violence and historical situations in Chile, Rwanda, Iran, former Yugoslavia, and Iraq, I am tracking how artistic practices make experiences of coping with the distress of witnessing oppression felt and seen (multi-sensory quality of perception); furthermore, how they emit empathy as well as sensuous knowledge. To move out of binary as well as identitarian thinking this project follows memory and re-member-ing as experiences imbuing and subsisting in and through the body (not simply the brain) and its ongoing process of coming to be something in the production of art.





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