The Young Scholars on the Silk Roads interview series seeks to empower young people, by giving youth a platform from which to transmit their voices. Via this series young scholars hailing from different countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia will be interviewed to share their research and reflections on the ancient Silk Roads. Here Ankur Shah reflects on the conclusions drawn from the series.
The ambition of this interview series was to explore how young scholars are shaping the Silk Roads, from the ground up.
Creating geographical representation of all countries along the Silk Roads was challenging across the series. To this end, 12 young people were selected from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East, all of whom have spent significant time living, studying and working outside of their home countries. They work in the arts, academia and beyond, and their research contributes to the ongoing dialogue around the Silk Roads.
In isolation, each interview resembles an individual portrait of one young person’s understanding of the Silk Roads. Yet, reflecting on the series as a whole, it is striking how much commonality can be found across interviews despite the fact that the participants hail from different cultural, social and economic backgrounds.
The essence of the interview series was summarised well by one interviewee who noted, “I believe in nuance, so the thing that I like the most about the Silk Roads is the added plural, the “s” on the end of “Road”. To me they represent the interweaving of innumerable interpersonal narratives.”
Below is a summary of the key findings of the series focussed around a number of the recurring themes that emerged. It is hoped that within these responses, young readers might find inspiration and guidance for their next steps along the Silk Roads, and further afield.
On Intercultural Dialogue:
Many scholars reported gaining immensely from cross-cultural exchange, be it on an academic, professional or personal level. Yet, the main challenge they faced is a sense that different groups live in different cultural and social contexts. Purely engaging across cultures is not enough. Intercultural dialogue requires the ability to listen without judgement, challenge others and oneself without bias, and above all, recognize and be sensitive to difference. Through intercultural dialogue, we must first explore those differences and find understanding in one another, and then seek creative solutions to resolve problems we share.
On Common Cultural Heritage:
In the case of the Silk Roads, cultural heritage exists and must be viewed in the context of the deep and long-standing interactions between cultures that have taken place for centuries. Through studying the commonality that exists along the Silk Roads, one can gain a better understanding of shared heritage, and a more nuanced understanding of both the self and the other.
On Inspiring Explorers:
Three explorers were referenced during the series. Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta, who travelled widely across Asia and Africa, highly influencing his regions literature. Zhang Qian, a pioneering Chinese diplomat, who helped form and deepen China’s overland contact between the Han and Central Asia. And Faxian, one of the first Chinese monks to make a pilgrimage to the Indian subcontinent, and whose travel accounts record deep social, economic and religious cross-cultural interactions. Their travel and tales are testimony to the great individual contributions to the Silk Roads made by explorers based in Asia, whose stories are less frequently told.
On The Role of Technology:
Interviewees encouraged young people to take advantage of social media and share photographs, short stories or simply moments from daily life along the Silk Roads, using the hashtag: #UNESCOSilkRoads. They also encouraged UNESCO to share the most inspiring of these stories, creating more dialogue between youth and the Programme. Yet, whilst technology provides an unprecedented platform for connectivity, participants remained cautious that there is no replacement for face-to-face dialogue.
On Supporting Young Researchers:
Beyond establishing scholarships and travel grants to fund their study of the Silk Roads, scholars emphasized that it is not only a question of funding. What has proved fruitful to them is local institutions willing to collaborate, facilitate fieldwork and guide them to grow together within their chosen fields of research.
It is hoped that this series sparked dialogue amongst readers, and from this perspective, invites those interested to relay their feedback to the Silk Roads Programme firstname.lastname@example.org.