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My PhD* examined the relationship between heritage and borders. The conflict which occurs at the meeting points of different identities is well worn academic territory. What is often overlooked are the other outcomes which these meeting points can produce.


My case study was the Kalasha, a non-Muslim community of only 4000 people positioned on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border.  I’d been visiting the Kalasha for over 10 years before starting my PhD, so I already had some idea of what life was like where they live, and I’d noticed how many different traditions come together to make their culture.

The outside world tends to think of Kalasha society as ancient and unchanging, a throwback, almost, to prehistoric times. In my PhD I demonstrated that this isn’t very accurate: Kalasha society is just as dynamic as any other. In fact, I argued that the Kalasha are better than many of us when it comes to adapting to changing circumstances and adding new strands to their identity. I discovered how things as apparently incompatible as Muslim and Pagan traditions, or a sense of Greek and Pakistani identity are combined in Kalasha culture. Rather than offering a window into the distant past therefore, the Kalasha might be more productively understood as guides to achieving a more harmonious future. In a world where people seem to be becoming increasingly intolerant of difference, perhaps there is something we might learn from the Kalasha’s ability to absorb the stories and ideas of others.

*Crowley, Tom. 2021. To Change Is to Be: The Kalasha of Pakistan’s Afghan Frontier and the Age of Heritage. Department of Archaeology: University of Cambridge.

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