Does Central Eurasian Islam Need a Rethink? 
Usmon Boron (University of California, Berkeley)
Morgan Liu (The Ohio State University)
Liliya Karimova (NVCC, Annandale)
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State Room, 7th floor
Thursday 10 October, 13:00-14:45 (UTC+0)

Long Abstract

The publication of Talal Asad's "The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam" in 1986 facilitated a paradigm shift in the study of Islam. Synthesizing Alasdair MacIntyre's seminal revival of Aristotelian ethics with the works of Marcel Mauss and Michel Foucault, the concept of discursive tradition allowed scholars of Islam to overcome a set of dichotomies that had plagued the field since its very inception: modernity vs tradition, scripturalist vs folk, global vs local, orthodoxy/orthopraxy vs heterodoxy. Today, over thirty years after the publication of Asad's essay, interest in the concept of discursive tradition keeps increasing. A decade ago, Asad's students Saba Mahmood and Charles Hirschkind published groundbreaking ethnographies of Islamic piety in Egypt, impacting thereby scholarly debates well beyond the study of Islam and the Middle East. Currently, anthropologists debate what aspects of Muslim lives the concept of discursive tradition fails to address, with Samuli Schielke, Amira Mittermaier, and Naveeda Khan, among others, providing provocative interventions. The publication of Asad's lengthy sequel to his original essay further reinforces and enriches the ongoing discussion.

Notwithstanding the cross-disciplinary influence of Asad's anthropology of Islam, his ideas have not been used widely in the study of (post-)Soviet Islam. Yet, Morgan Liu's recent (2017) argument about the usefulness of the concept for understanding Central Asian Islam and the recent translation of Asad's essay into Russian are clear signs that work in this direction is likely to progress. This panel aims to facilitate this process by creating space for a critical discussion of Talal Asad's scholarship and its relation to post-Soviet contexts. The panel centers on, but is not limited to, the following overarching questions: How does the concept of discursive tradition relate to dominant theorizations of post-Soviet Islam (e.g. "cultural tradition" (Adeeb Khalid), "collective memory" (Bruce Privratsky), "ideology" (Mathijs Pelkmans), "ethno-national belonging" (Julie McBrien)) ? In what ways can the concept contribute to our understanding of the legacy of Soviet secularism and the ongoing revival of normative conceptions of Islamic piety in the region? How can post-Soviet modes of lived Islam enrich, complicate, or challenge the Asadian paradigm?

Accepted papers: