Accepted Paper:

Contesting local knowledge through global flows: the example of conflicting claims to authoritative knowledge among Kyrgyz imams  


Yanti Hoelzchen (Frankfurt University)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, I show how conflicting claims of authoritative knowledge by Kyrgyz imams can be analysed as grounded in the clash of global and local practices and flows of materials.

Paper long abstract:

In the past 25 years of Kyrgyzstan's independence, a growing number of people have been increasingly practicing Islam based on a specific notion of religious knowledge (ilim) implying the strict adherence to the holy scriptures and the practical and moral guidelines - a process that, along with other developments such as the construction of numerous mosques, has been termed "Islamization". Within this process, imams take on an important role, especially within rural settings: besides mosques, madrasas and lay preachers (davatchy), a new generation of imams is emerging who - for instance - have institutional training in Egypt, Turkey or Russia, have acquired knowledge travelling the Indian subcontinent, who attract (international) funds for mosque constructions via their (trans-)regional networks and who can testify their knowledge with official certifications. These imams achieve authority vis-à-vis an elderly generation of imams, in turn grounding their knowledge in their genealogies, their ancestors' traditions and their claim of "knowing the secrets of Islam".

In their respective narratives, each group of imams lays claim to authority by essentializing their knowledge as "true path" ("tuura jol") of ilim, an essential truth that exists beyond and independent of material reality. Conversely, I analyse ilim as knowledge primarily grounded in practices and (global) flows of materials. That is, while ilim of the elderly imams is constituted by flows of knowledge between past and present emphasizing the connection to local traditions, the new generation of imams embody ilim as flows of people, money, information, books etc. across the globe.

Panel RM-SPK01
By whose authority: investigating alternative modes of power and the legitimization of expertise