Accepted paper:

On the centrality of practice in Asad's "Islam as a discursive tradition"


Julie McBrien (Amsterdam)

Paper abstract:

In his quintessential essay on the Idea of an Anthropology of Islam, Asad presents a view of how anthropologists might consider a given phenomenon as Islamic. He argues "A practice is Islamic because it is authorized by the discursive traditions of Islam, and is so taught to Muslims whether by an alim, a khatib, a Sufi shaykh, or an untutored parent." (1986:21, emphasis mine). Read in this light, his idea of discursive tradition seems expansive enough to think with when looking at Islamic practice in Central Asia during the Soviet and post-soviet periods, especially given Asad's emphasis on the social and historical conditions "that enable the production and maintenance of specific discursive traditions, or their transformation and the efforts of practitioners to achieve coherence" (ibid:23). The tension between Islam as discursive tradition and the way Islam in Central Asia has been conceptualized - often as a mode of belonging, including in my own work - largely dissolves. A much thornier question, however, is the centrality of practice in Asad's seminal piece. In this paper I preform a close reading of Asad and outline the fruitful ground he provides for future research into Islam as a discursive tradition in Central Asia. But I also reflect on the centrality of practice in his approach and what consequences this has for thinking about Islam in the region.

panel ANT-01
Does Central Eurasian Islam Need a Rethink?