Alexandra Nieweg is a PhD candidate and will be doing research on ‘Literary Qalandars’ within the ERC Advanced Grant Beyond Sharia: The Role of Sufism in Shaping Islam. After a bachelor’s degree in Modern Middle Eastern Studies and Persian Language and Culture, she obtained her MA degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Leiden University, the Netherlands, in 2022. During a semester abroad, she attended Samarkand State University, in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, to study Persian and Uzbek languages and local history. Throughout her studies, Alexandra has had a keen interest in the way Islamic traditions feed into contemporary ideologies and their cultural expression in the Turco-Persian world in general. Her work focused on Shiism in Iran and Afghanistan, including the Karbala narrative, martyr iconography, and propaganda. She is especially interested in Sufi antinomianism, poetry, pilgrimages and holy sites.
For the ERC project, Alexandra will explore antinomian motifs, metaphors, imagery, and stories (which are meant to challenge the religious hierarchy and orthodox Islam) in Persian poetry from the 12th century onward. To this day, this poetry has had a great appeal to Muslims in the Persian world and far beyond. She also analyses how qalandari (Sufi saints at a high level of spirituality) themes in this poetry impacted social, political, and religious developments in subsequent centuries. In Alexandra’s view, the special value for contemporary society of studies on antinomian and qalandari Sufism, as expressed in classical Persian poetry, lies in their potential to help counter today’s common misconception of Islam as exclusively orthodox and Sharia-centred. By showing that Islam for many centuries in the past included entirely different ways to be a pious Muslim, thus emphasizing its pluriformity, this dissertation aims to contribute to a more complete and accurate understanding of Islam.