Liya Xie

Graduate Student

I see myself as an intellectual and cultural historian of late imperial Russia with a sensitivity to transnational and global perspectives. I'm interested in the fin-de-siècle entanglements between Eastern and Western systems of knowledge and how these cross-cultural exchanges in the age of high imperialism shaped our understanding of “modernity” and the relationship between religion, science, and philosophy. Russia’s unique bicontinental geography provided a vast, contiguous contact zone of different peoples and their cultural traditions, offering a great case study for tracing the origins of the East-West binary and eventually deconstructing it. 

My doctoral dissertation, temporarily titled “In the Shadows of Rationality: Eastern Spiritualities, Alternative Medicine, and Mystical Archaeology in the making of Russian Modernity (1880-1930), aims to demonstrate a panorama of the ways in which Eastern philosophy and culture constituted an integral part of the fin-de-siècle search for answers to the looming crisis of value in the Russian society. By “Eastern philosophy and culture” I refer to a wide range of ideas, objects, and practices that were introduced to the Russian Empire in its long history of interacting with different “Easts”—Islam, Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Chinese philosophy and medicine, shamanism, as well as the nomadic civilizations of the Mongol steppes. I hope to show that engaging with the multiple Easts was not only about ideas and discursive formations (i.e. Edward Said’s idea of Orientalism as a citation regime) but also about objects and practices, that is, about non-discursive ways of Being and engaging with the Truth.

I grew up in Moscow and Beijing, and I have received my B.A. with University Honors in Global Cultural Studies and Russian from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Before coming to Princeton, I spent two years in St. Petersburg, Russia and received my M.A. in Applied and Interdisciplinary History at Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg campus. During my time in Russia, I have also interned at Peterhof State Museum-Reserve and Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology.

In my spare time, I’m passionate about learning and teaching foreign languages, traveling, visiting museums, and practicing yoga.

Year of Study
Fourth Year
Area of Interest
Art History
Consumer History
Cultural History
Economic History
Material Culture
Social History
Visual Culture
Home Department & Other Affiliations
19th Century
20th Century
Russia and Eurasia