Continuity and Change at Millennial Scale: The Holy Sites of Serindia

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This essay offers an experiment in chronological boundary crossing as way of addressing questions about continuity and change in Central Eurasia. It analyzes the violent transformations of holy sites in Altishahr (more widely known as Eastern Turkistan or southern Xinjiang), examining the 11th-century transition from Buddhist to Muslim rule alongside the 21st-century efforts of the People's Republic of China to transform sacred Islamic sites into nationalist showpieces and "Silk Road"tourism sites. This juxtaposition calls into question prevailing understandings of the 11th -century transition as a simple refashioning of existing Buddhist sites into Islamic forms, while also placing current Chinese restrictions on Islamic holy sites in a broader historical perspective. Together, these 11th- and 20th century transformations show that shrines act as cultural arbiters, establishing routes by which change has entered Altishahr and stubbornly preserving not just older meanings, but also older ways of knowing. At the same time, they are places where the dynamics of continuous meaning creation come into clear view - where cultural change itself becomes an explicit part of the narratives that bind people together in supposedly stable identity groups such as religions and nations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)953-982
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 3 Nov 2023


  • Buddhism
  • China
  • Karakhanids
  • Serindia
  • Xinjiang


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