Olly Akkerman “Bohra Manuscript Culture, Archive and Secrecy”

Bohra Manuscript Culture, Archive and Secrecy

The Bohras, a small but vibrant Muslim Shia community in India which is entirely closed to outsiders, hold a secret Arabic Ismāʿīlī manuscript culture. In my research, which is based on both philological work and participant observation in the ʿAlawī Bohra community in Baroda Gujarat, I investigate the social role of the archive of the community as a repository of secret texts and scribal practices. The archive, or khizānaas it is referred to by the Bohras, is unique in the sense that it is considered secret due to the highly esoteric manuscripts it holds and has therefore never been accessed or studied before. Having had unique access to one of this Bohra library, this research project will shed new light on the transmission and reception of Ismāʿīlī knowledge of the peripheries of the Islamic world. Furthermore, the study of the manual transmission of this manuscript culture to the present day will provide insight in how a new Ismāʿīlī scholarly canon was constructed, which legitimized and strengthened the Bohras’ communal identity.

Olly Akkerman is a doctoral candidate at the Freie Universität Berlin, trained in Islamic Studies and Philology at Leiden University. Her current project deals with the material culture of the Bohra archives and the transmission of its Arabic manuscript tradition.


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