Accepted Paper:

Entrepreneurs of knowledge - the role of Islamic funds in Islamic knowledge production and circulation in Kyrgyzstan  


Yanti Hoelzchen (Frankfurt University)

Paper long abstract:

In the decades since Kyrgyzstan's independence, a growing number of people have been increasingly practicing Islam based on a specific notion of Islamic knowledge (ilim) implying the strict adherence to the holy scriptures and prescribed practical and moral guidelines. While recent publications have explored how religious knowledge generally is acquired by individuals and made meaningful in their everyday lives (e.g. Rasanayagam 2011; Montgomery 2016), accounts covering the attempts of institutionalizing this specific, normative understanding of Islamic knowledge (ilim) have so far been absent from ethnographic descriptions.

In this paper, I pursue two aims: First, I offer an account of what I call the "religious infrastructure" in present-day Kyrgyzstan. I highlight how mosques, madrasas and Islamic funds together with religious agents such as imams and members of the Tablighi Jama'at movement (davatchy) engage in the ultimate goal of providing religious knowledge "ilim" to a broad audience throughout the country. I show how this is achieved through the interplay of formal and informal processes at local, regional, national and global levels.

Second, contrary to accounts emphasizing foreign influences in this kind of "Islamic revival" (Khalid 2003; Abramson 2010), I stress the role of local initiatives involved in knowledge production and circulation. While activities of the davatchy lay preachers figure prominently in recent publications (Nasritdinov/Ismailbekova 2012; Toktogulova 2017; Mostowlansky 2017; Pelkmans 2017), I shed light on the activities of Islamic funds within the country. Taking the local fund "Adep Bashaty" as an example, I show how its members engage entrepreneurial endeavour in promoting religious knowledge throughout the country, at the same time seeking to reconcile discourses on its proclaimed incompatibility with "traditional" Kyrgyz national identity.

This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted both in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek as well as the rural Yssykköl region during a total period of twelve months in 2014/2015.

Panel ANT-03
Shaping Islam: Religious knowledge production and religious knowledge circulation in Central Asia and beyond