Thinking Comparatively About Contemporary Islam In Central Eurasia
Talal Asad's landmark essay, "The Idea of an Anthropology of Islam" (1986) opened up new avenues for thinking about change and continuity in "Islam." In seeing it as a discursive tradition, Asad conceptualized "Islam" as a never-ending, ever-shifting conversation focused on a set of authorities that most Muslims could agree upon. What happens, though, when that tradition is disrupted, as it was in most of Central Eurasia in the Soviet period? Do Asad's ideas have resonance in such a situation? I will argue that they do, and that they in fact help think about Islam in the Soviet and post-Soviet contexts in a more sophisticated fashion. (As a historian, I am most interested in the transformations of the Soviet period and in their lasting after-effects.) Thinking comparatively about Soviet and post-Soviet Islam in Central Asia allows us to rescue it from essentialization on the hand and from securitization on the other. This paper will have a dual approach: (1) it will discuss the ways in which Asad's scholarship (his 1986 essay, his extensive writings since then, and the work that they have inspired) can help us make better sense of Soviet and post-Soviet Islam, and (2) consider ways in which the Soviet and post-Soviet contexts extend Asad's analysis. This second point will lead us to a consideration of what, if anything, is peculiar to Islam in post-Soviet spaces.
Does Central Eurasian Islam Need a Rethink?