Talk looks at cosmopolitanism near the Indian Ocean

York’s Faculty of Education is hosting the latest in its series of conversations and presentations today – a discussion by Professor Zulfikar Hirji, called "Cosmopolitanism in the Indian Ocean: Crossing Thresholds in the Last Days of Empire". The talk takes place from 2 to 4pm in 286C Winters College.

The presentations and conversations in this series are an intervention in the ongoing debates around this subject and are sponsored by the Graduate Programs in Social Anthropology; Social and Political Thought; and Education; and by Founders College.

Moving through societies, living in several different areas and traversing spatial and social boundaries is commonplace for people living next to the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean or the Atlantic Ocean. For these people, being cosmopolitan has always been a way of life.

Although the idea of cosmopolitanism in these areas may be the norm, the sense of a structured political response may still have been a concern for certain social actors, says Hirji, a professor in York’s Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Arts. "Becoming cosmopolitan and engendering cosmopolitanism requires taking account of the relations of power in which one defines self, community and the other."

In discussing cosmopolitanism, Hirji will also look at the life and work of Sheikh-Sir Mbarak b. Ali al-Hinawy, the governor of the Coast of East Africa, based at Mombasa, Kenya, from 1942 until his death in 1959.

"Sheikh Mbarak was one of most prominent Arab Muslim figures of Omani descent in East Africa who was decorated by the British and French, prior to the independence of African states in the 1960s," says Hirji. "He was also a historian, linguist and ethnographer, who worked closely with local and European scholars on the histories and literatures of the Arab and Swahili-speaking peoples of the East African Coast."

Hirji has published numerous articles on Muslims societies in the Western Indian Ocean and is the co-editor for Routledge’s Indian Ocean Series.  He is also the editor of the forthcoming Plurality and Pluralism in Muslim Contexts (IB Tauris) and is completing a volume on multi-sited ethnography entitled Moving Subjects, Shifting Paradigms (Berghahn Books).

Cosmopolitanism, as a critical concept that brings together academic and political concerns, has featured prominently in contemporary scholarly debates, signaling a renewed attention to the complex ways in which globalization, nationalism and questions of citizenship and multiculturalism are being linked together in the context of a post 9/11 world.

For more information, e-mail Professor Daniel Yon in the Faculty of Education at or call ext. 88806.