Mountains and Messiahs: Revelation, Language, and Afghan Becomings


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Religious Studies


This project, which was awarded the Pirzada Prize from the Institute for South Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, analyzes a sixteenth-century Sufi messianic movement known as the Roshaniyya (“people of light”) that was popular among Afghans on the frontier of the Mughal Empire. While Roshaniyya and Mughal armies clashed, there was a more profound contest over the nature of language and divine revelation. How does a vernacular language become the language of God? Out of this contest, new forms of imagining Afghan identity emerged, as did a Pashto literary movement. By telling a history of the practice of revelation along the Afghan frontier, this project rejects the overemphasis of tribe and ethnicity as categories that isolate the Roshaniyya movement. Rather, the Roshaniyya experimentation with language reveals both that Afghans were active participants in the religious landscapes of the early modern Persianate world, and that the nature of Islamic revelation was by no means settled in this period.