Faculty Spotlight: Assistant Professor of History Shayan Rajani 

By: Patti McDonald

Assistant Professor of History, Shayan Rajani, is settling into his second semester at Michigan State University. In August 2023, Rajani moved to East Lansing from Lahore, Pakistan where he was teaching at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. 

Shayan said that although it’s a huge adjustment to move more than 7,000 miles away from home, he is enjoying all Michigan has to offer, including its seasons.  

“It has been a blur of activity, but it has been wonderful getting to know the campus, faculty, staff, and students,” he said. “I also loved the fall here on campus. It was gorgeous.” 

Rajani is a historian of early modern South Asia. South Asia has often been studied as a mosaic of groups and communities, castes, and religions. His research focuses on the lesser-known history of the individual in South Asia. He is also interested in questions about gender and sexuality. 

“I look at a period when many of the hallmarks of modernity started to emerge around the world,” he said. “I’m interested in seeing how those hallmarks manifest in the Indian context. In particular, I look at how an emphasis on or concern with individuality, and with the individual, emerges in South Asia.” 

This semester, Shayan is teaching HST 420: History of Sexuality and HST 850: Topics in Comparative History. 

“I look at the history of sexuality, not just in the Western context, but within a more global view,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough to have a density of new scholarship that does allow us that kind of broader vision on the history of sexuality.  

Without a global perspective, we tend to assume that what we know, what we are familiar with, is the only way that things can be. This tends to lead to a more parochial understanding of the world. The more connected we become, the more we need to expand our vision of human history.” 

Recently, Shayan published a book chapter: “Loving Men, Loving God,” in Pakistan Desires: Queer Futures Elsewhere, ed. Omar Kasmani (Durham: Duke University Press, 2023), pp. 31–48. The chapter tells the story of the relationship between Shah Hussain, a Muslim saint, and Madho, his Hindu lover, who lived in sixteenth-century South Asia, and whose love is commemorated till today. It brings out the unique position of same-sex love in early modern South Asia, and its continuities with the modern period. 

Shayan also recently finished his first book project, Leaving Legacies: The Individual in Early Modern South Asia, which he hopes to publish this year. Leaving Legacies examines the enterprise of assembling texts, monuments, and children as material traces for posterity. It investigates the intellectual, social, and material history of the individual in South Asia between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries. Using little-known and to-date underutilized textual sources in Persian and Sindhi, alongside the study of buildings, epigraphy, and objects, the book reveals how the gendered individual was central to Mughal and post-Mughal order.  

When Shayan isn’t teaching, he is familiarizing himself with local trails and coffee shops. 

“The trails have won me over entirely,” Shayan said. “The Lansing River Trail is an absolute gem and I love exploring Hawk Island and the Lake Lansing area. I find it relaxing to go for walks and hikes on the trail.”   

“Blue Owl and Hooked have been amazing places to visit,” he said. “Lansing is a great community, and I am looking forward to getting to know it further.” 

A complete list of Rajani’s scholarly publications can be found on his website. 

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Hawthorne 

Courtesy Photo: Rajani examining inscriptions at the tomb of Nasir Muhammad Kalhoro in Sindh 

Courtesy Photo: Rajani at the Tower of the Deer complex (Hiran Minar) constructed by the Mughal emperors Jahangir and Shahjahan in Sheikhupura