The Aga Khan Humanities Project

The University of Central Asia’s Aga Khan Humanities Project (AKHP) fosters the development of critical thinking and academic writing skills within a multidisciplinary humanities framework.

Established in1997 by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, AKHP was inherited by UCA in 2007 and has become an important node for the University, developing and delivering resources, training and courses through its innovative curriculum, faculty development and Humanities in English programmes. AKHP is also contributing to the University School of Arts and Sciences’ undergraduate core curriculum.

Through a growing network of partner universities in the region, AKHP is transforming the study of the humanities in Central Asia. This regional Project is located at UCA Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and has partnerships and programmes in all three of UCA’s Founding States.

Innovative Curriculum

AKHP’s innovative curriculum incorporates material from the rich oral and written cultures of Central Asia and Eastern and Western classical texts. The series of textbooks is designed to fill the knowledge and methodological gaps in the study of the humanities in Central Asia; explore and promote pluralism; highlight Central Asian cultures within a context of universal values; and encourage the development of pedagogy and critical thinking skills in ethical reflection, cultural interpretation and aesthetic appreciation. It also aims to deepen understanding of diverse ideas and values through content analyses of different cultural and intellectual traditions. The curriculum is taught in AKHP’s Humanities in English programme and at partner universities around the region.

AKHP Humanities Curriculum

AKHP’s innovative curriculum, available in English and Russian, is comprised of eight textbooks, which can be taught as individual courses or as a series of courses.

Introduction to the Humanities
The humanities are not one specific subject, but many things: philosophy and cinema, studies of science, religion, society, literature and poetry, history and culture. This course is designed to help students begin to explore their own ideas as critical thinkers, readers and writers. In this course, students look at past, present and imaginary cultures across time space and people. Students learn to interpret by understanding different possible perspectives on the texts they read.

Individual and Society
The relationship between individuals and society has been part of debates across humanities and social sciences disciplines such as anthropology, history, literature, philosophy and sociology. This course focuses on the individual and society in light of individual and social identity formation, gender, science, technology and ethics, individuality and religion and the natural environment. The course examines ideas from diverse writers of Asian, western and/or Islamic backgrounds, and provides students with opportunities to address contemporary issues that have an impact on their lives.

Tradition and Change
All societies, cultures and individuals are in a process of change. We are always evolving, always becoming new and reaching into the future. Our ideas and our imaginations encourage us to assess the present and envision the future. The knowledge, way of life, cultural habits and experiences of the past become a tradition that is handed on to us. With tradition, we shape the present and the future. Understanding the role and place of tradition in daily life enables us to be rooted in our culture without becoming trapped and locked into it. In this course, the dynamics of tradition and change are examined through six themes: (1) the creation of traditions, (2) religious innovation, (3) tradition as nostalgia, (4) urban traditions, (5) tradition versus modernity and (6) globalisation and traditions.

Identifying Civil Society
Identifying civil society, exploring its roots in history, literature, religion and society is a need that has been felt more in the late 20th and the 21st centuries than at any other time in human history. This need to identify, establish and root civil society in every modern state is being met by scholars, politicians, professionals, citizens and students. In this course, students examine the concept of civil society, alternatives to it, and the value humanity sees in it. Questions that will be addressed include: What is civil society? How has the concept of civil society evolved in recent human history? Is respect for universal human rights the foundation of civil society?

Seeking Social Justice
A critical examination of social justice by each and every citizen remains the only possibility for achieving it in any society. The course promotes the development of a keen sense of social justice and recognises the need for responsible citizenry for a better world for all of us. This course introduces diverse views of justice and examines how they guide societies and communities. Through an examination of these conceptions and a comparative analysis of ideas presented in the texts with those presented in the media, at home and in the classroom, students will identify patterns of justice and injustice that guide and order communal life.

Negotiating Human Nature
Most transactions in the market, at work and at home are based on our understanding of human nature. This course allows students to explore the concept of human nature through texts from diverse cultures, perspectives and ideologies. There is no absolute agreement on what human nature is. However, there is a serious debate on the questions by philosophers, ideologues, artists, social scientists and theologians. It is necessary for people from different backgrounds to come to a negotiated agreement on what constitutes human nature. This course enables students to become a part of that negotiation.

Art as Appreciation
Most people appreciate or critique art but few understand what that appreciation or critique means. This course offers students an opportunity to appreciate and understand art through a discussion on the various aesthetics propounded by artists, critics, philosophers and writers. Art has been defined as something sacred, beautiful, intuitive, political or experiential. This course addresses each of these definitions, allowing students to present and defend their own views on the visual arts. They will get an opportunity to visit an art gallery, talk to local artists and watch films on famous artists. The objective of this course is not to impart knowledge about art history but to enhance understanding of various responses to art and the benefits of that understanding.

Rhythm and Movement
This course explores the great influence of music in shaping human society and history. The main objective is to provide an introduction to dance and music as important disciplines within the humanities and to debate basic ideas related to aesthetics of the arts. Students engage with materials from different cultures and civilizations that have had links to the history and contemporary life of Central Asia. This course allows students to freely question existing musical forms, groups and ensembles and to challenge dominant cultural, traditional and political attitudes on musical performances, self expression and the responsibilities of musicians to society.

Faculty Development

In response to Central Asian government requests to revitalise teaching in the region, AKHP provides multi-year faculty development training to Central Asian university instructors using AKHP textbooks in innovative, interactive and modern teaching methods. Over 70 institutions across Central Asia participate in AKHP programmes, many of which enrich their own courses using AKHP’s learning materials and pedagogy.

Humanities in English

AKHP’s Humanities in English Programme for undergraduate and high school students is designed to develop critical thinking skills, academic writing and reading skills, knowledge of humanities, leadership, communication and listening skills and team work. The programme also prepares participants for English-language undergraduate and graduate education.

Other Activities and Resources

To supplement its teaching and training activities, AKHP’s resource centre provide access to extensive English and Russian-language print, online and audiovisual collections, as well as Internet access. Events in the UCA Public Lecture Series and AKHP’s innovative Debate Club provide further stimuli for discussion and debate among students and the wider community.