JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Palvasha Khan

April 16, 2024 by Sonja Johnston

Palvasha Khan is a third-year student double majoring in History and Literature and Critical Theory at the University of Toronto. For the past two years, she has served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Future of History, an annual journal released by the History Students’ Association. She is primarily interested in postcoloniality in South Asia, and holds an exploratory interest in the transmission of collective memory, Islamic intellectual history, and exile and estrangement. Palvasha is one of our 2023-24 JHI Undergraduate Fellows.

What are your main research interests?

My main research interests are South Asian history, Sufi ethics, and the transmission of collective memory.

What project are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it?

I’m working on a project titled “Spectral Sovereignty: Materializing Absences in Lahore’s Moti Masjid.” This project was inspired by a book I read last year by anthropologist Anand Vivek Taneja called Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, and Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi. Taneja’s work details the practice of jinn-veneration at the Firoz Shah Kotla and the ethical-political implications it holds for largely marginalized Muslim and Dalit communities in Delhi. In his afterword, Taneja writes briefly about a mosque in Lahore—the Moti Masjid, or “pearl mosque”—in which congregants likewise engage in jinn-centric practices. My project centres around the Moti Masjid and serves as a partial response to Taneja within a Pakistani context.

How has your JHI Fellowship experience been so far?

Delightful. There’s a line in Elias Canetti’s autobiography about eating from an apple orchard as a young man in Yalta. I’ve forgotten how Canetti words it exactly, but it brilliantly describes how it feels to be presented with such a delicious bounty. I feel as though the JHI is an apple orchard, and I’ve been presented with its great plenitude—in ideas, in friends, and of course, by way of our Thursday lunches.

Can you share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by?

I recently read a piece titled “Toward an Intellectual History of Genocide in Gaza” in The Baffler. It’s written by Esmat Elhalaby, who teaches Transnational History at UTSC. Often, the carnage in Gaza is construed as beyond thinkability. Of course, however, there is a history of ideas congealed into every genocidal maneuver that has taken place. Elhalaby specifically navigates the relationship between Palestinians, the Israeli university as colonial outposts, and pedagogies of liberation. Last week, I rewatched The Panic in Needle Park. It’s directed by Jerry Schatzberg, the screenplay is written by Joan Didion, and it stars a young Al Pacino and Kitty Winn. It's likely the best work either four has ever produced. My directive: go, watch! You must!

What is a fun fact about you?

Above my desk at the JHI is an old poster of Shabana Azmi, Deepti Naval, and Smita Patil. I gaze at it intermittently while I work on my thesis. It makes writing so much more glamorous.