Meeting between Asia and Europe: The Nara to Norwich Workshop in Istanbul

Meeting between Asia and Europe: The Nara to Norwich Workshop in Istanbul

Nara to Norwich is a project centred on collaborations and conversations, intended to suggest to all of us links and inspiration beyond our own fields and provide new approaches to our topics. We were therefore delighted that colleagues in the Department of History and Asian Studies Centre, Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, agreed to host our spring workshop in collaboration with SISJAC and funded by Toshiba International Foundation.

In the university grounds on the bank of the Bosphorus.
From right to left: Juhyung Rhi, Arzu Ozturkmen, Christopher Scull, Simon Kaner, Susan Whitfield, Katy Cubitt, Selçuk Esenbel, Isenbike Togan, Hale Eroğlu Sağer, Erdal Kucukyaclin and Kiraz Perincek.

Selçuk Esenbel and Susan Whitfield outside the Nafi Baba Building.

The catastrophic events only 10 days before the workshop gave us all pause. After discussion, we all agreed to go ahead. The University, closed because of the events and the numbers of student affected, was a sombre place, but we had a warm welcome and an intense and stimulating day of papers and discussions. A summary of the programme is given below and we hope that blog posts will follow for some of the papers and that this will be the start of a long collaboration and friendship. Our thoughts remain with our Turkish friends, their families and all those involved.

The workshop was help in the Nafi Baba Building at the University, originally built by Şeyh Bedreddin Baba in the fifteenth century as a Martyrs’ Cemetery Dervish Lodge. The lodge that was demolished during the abolishment of janissary corps in 1826 was later reconstructed. It is known by the name of Bektaşî Nafi Baba (d. 1912) who served there as the Sufi master of the lodge for 53 years. It was rebuilt as a cultural centre for the university in 2014 and reopened with a conference on Japan and the Silk Road in April 2017.


Nara to Norwich project members had papers in the morning, with Simon Kaner starting off the day explaining the project and its future plans. This was followed by Susan Whitfield on the Nara to Norwich website and Sacred Spaces in the Swat and the Tarim; Chris Scull on the Rendlesham project; Katy Cubitt on medieval saints on the Silk Roads; and Juhyung Rhi on pilgrimage and Buddhism.

After considerable discussion before and over lunch, colleagues from Boğaziçi University then spoke in the afternoon. The schedule is given below. All the presentations elicited considerable and lively discussion.

Professor Emerita Selçuk Esenbel, editor of Japan on the Silk Roads (Brill 2019), ‘Japan on the Silk Roads.’

Professor Arzu Ozturkmen, Chair Department of History, Director Asian Studies Centre, specializing in anthropology and history, oral history, media studies and folklore history. ‘Migrant Forms of Folklore: Instances from Verbal and Festive Performances along the Silk Road.’

Dr Z. Hale Eroğlu Sağer, specialist in history of Islam in China, ‘Vernacularization of Islam on the silk roads: Muslim scholarship in China.’

Assoc. Professor Koray Durak, economic historian specialising in history of Byzantine-Islamic relations, Director of the Asian Studies Centre, Vice-director of Byzantine Studies Research Center, Istanbul ‘The movement of pilgrims and relics between the Byzantine and Islamic worlds in the early Middle Ages.’

Dr. Erdal Kucukyalcin, Asian Studies Centre specializing on history of modern Japan and Buddhism, expeditions in Central Asia, samurai culture. Searching for the Roots of Faith-Religious Nature of Otani Expeditions.’

Kiraz Perincek, Ph.D. candidate Department of History, Researcher Asian Studies Centre, ‘The multilayered journey of a precious colour on the ancient Silk Roads: 琉璃.’

Sadly, Professor Oya Pancaroğlu, also a scheduled speaker could not attend. Her proposed presentation was entitled ‘Mongol Tomb Towers in Late Thirteenth-Century Ahlat: An Architectural Intersection on the Silk Road?’. We look forward to hearing from her at a future meeting.

Thanks are also owing to Batuhan Ozbelli and Buket Sargan for their invaluable help.

Susan Whitfield