HST6066: Autobiography, Identity and the Self in Muslim South Asia

HST6066 Image Jahanara

15 credits

Module Leader: Dr Siobhan Lambert-Hurley

Module Summary

'The satisfaction [of autobiography] comes from being allowed inside the experience of another person who really lived and who tells about experiences which did in fact occur. In this way the lost suspension of disbelief disappears and the reader is able to try on the experience of another, just as one would try on a dress or a suit of clothes, to see what the image in the mirror then looks like. We like to try on new identities because our own crave the confirmation of like experience, or the enlargement or transformation which can come from viewing a similar experience from a different perspective. When we read about totally disparate experience, say as Christians reading about a life lived by a believer in Islam, it is as though the set designer and the lighting specialist had provided us with a totally different scene and pattern of light and shadows to illuminate the stage on which we live our lives...' (Conway, When Memory Speaks) 

This module uses autobiographical writing to chart wider cultural transitions experienced by Muslims in South Asia in the modern era. Of particular interest is the way in which South Asian Muslims adapted the long tradition of recording life stories in Islam under the influence of colonialism and reformism. To what degree do life writings reflect changing notions of self and identity among Muslims? You will be introduced to autobiography, Islam and the self as theoretical concepts before turning to different lives told – by princes, scholars, saints, reformers, educationalists, politicians, feminists, writers, actors and/or immigrants.

Module aims

By focusing on autobiography, identity and the self in Muslim South Asia, this module aims to introduce you to an exciting and thriving field of historical research, while also reflecting on a specific source category. You will be introduced to theoretical concepts and approaches related to autobiography as a literary and historical genre before applying and adapting them to specific case studies from the Mughal, colonial and postcolonial eras. This will enable you to engage critically, including through an informed exchange with your peers, with complex debates about changing notions of self and identity among South Asians Muslims in relation to religion, gender and class especially.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you will be able to demonstrate:

  1. An understanding of themes, concepts, and approaches relevant to autobiography, identity and the self in Muslim South Asia;
  2. A critical awareness of theoretical and historiographical arguments applied to analyse Muslim autobiographical texts in both literary and historical terms;
  3. A sophisticated engagement with relevant case studies demonstrating changing notions of the self in autobiographical writings from Muslim South Asia in relation to themes of religion, gender and class especially;
  4. An ability to present your ideas in seminars and contribute to group discussions of interpretive issues;
  5. An ability to construct arguments concisely and persuasively through the completion of assessed written work.


Learning hours
Seminar hours Tutorial hours Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two-hour seminars. The first will introduce you to central themes, concepts and approaches relating to autobiography, identity and the self in Muslim South Asia (Learning Outcomes 1 & 2). The next four will then focus on specific case studies of autobiographical writings reflecting different social groupings and historical contexts (LOs 1, 2 & 3). Preparation for class will involve a wide reading of relevant secondary and primary materials. Seminars will then provide a forum for you to present your research and ideas, share knowledge and debate controversial issues (LO 4). You will, in addition have individual tutorial contact with the module leader in order to discuss your written work for this module (LO 5).



Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a 3,000 word essay which will allow you to apply theoretical and historical debates relating to autobiography, identity and the self to an autobiographical case study of your choice from Muslim South Asia. You will have individual tutorial contact with the module tutor in order to discuss your written work for this module and you are encouraged to approach the tutor for guidance in choosing and shaping your topic (LOs 1, 2, 3 & 5).


Selected reading

  • David Arnold and Stuart Blackburn (eds), Telling Lives in India: Biography, Autobiography, and Life History (Permanent Black, 2004).
  • Stephen F. Dale, The Garden of the Eight Paradises: Babur and the Culture of Empire in Central Asia, Afghanistan and India (Brill, 2004).
  • Anshu Malhotra and Siobhan Lambert-Hurley (eds.), Speaking of the Self: Gender, Performance, and Autobiography in South Asia (Duke 
    University Press, 2015).
  • Begum Khurshid Mirza, A Woman of Substance: the Memoirs of Begum Khurshid Mirza, ed. Lubna Kazim with foreword by Gail Minault (Zubaan, 2005).
  • C.M. Naim (ed.), Zikr-i-Mir: The Autobiography of the Eighteenth Century Mughal Poet: Mir Muhammad Taqi ‘Mir’ (1723-1810) (Oxford University Press, 1999)
  • Francis Robinson, 'Religious Change and the Self in Muslim South Asia' in Islam and Muslim History in South Asia (Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 105-21.

A full indicative bibliography can be found here.



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