Accepted Paper:

Irreligion in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan through the Lens of Public Opinion Surveys  


Azamat Junisbai (Pitzer College)

Paper long abstract:

At least since the 1990s, policymakers and scholars have been tracking the changing religious landscape in Central Asia. The region's governments, think tanks, and academics, as well as their Western counterparts, are primarily concerned with the implications of Islamic revival, particularly its political consequences. To wit, we have seen a proliferation of publications offering insight into religious practices and beliefs of post-Soviet Central Asians. At the same time, amidst the chorus of voices describing the changing nature of Islam in Central Asia, there have been no studies of secularism and non-belief in the region. To address this gap in our knowledge, we present the results of two rounds of nationally representative surveys, spaced five years apart, in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Our study sheds light on extent and patterns of irreligion among members of culturally Muslim ethnic groups in these two countries. Importantly, our data allow us to think about the changes that have taken place between 2007, when the surveys were first launched, and 2012, when we conducted the second wave. We find that a secular retreat is underway, with proportions of non-religious citizens declining in both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan between 2007 and 2012. Secularism, while in retreat in both societies, is more prominent in Kazakhstan than in Kyrgyzstan. While the share of those who express secular views has declined in both, this group has shrunk faster in the more impoverished Kyrgyzstan. We attribute these differences to the divergent economic and political trajectories between the two societies. Following our disĀ¬cussion of the overall trends, we employ multivariate regression analyses to identify and compare individual level determinants of irreligion in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Panel REL-04
Religion, Youth and Change in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan