Beyond Talal Asad's Discursive Tradition
(University of New Hampshire)
Talal Asad's important contribution to understanding Islam notwithstanding, approaching Islam as a discursive tradition only in Central Asian and Eurasian societies has its limitations: (1) not all self-identifying Muslims have a deep knowledge of the Qur'an and other theological sources; (2) scholars engaged in studies of Islam in the region should to be familiar with such sources but do not have to make these sources the locus of research; and (3) a focus on power struggle among practitioners attempting to challenge and/or maintain "orthodoxy" (variously defined) is certainly a part of local Muslims' daily life but not the whole of it. Debating Islam is certainly one way of being Muslim in Central Asia and Eurasia. But how do we think about/theorize/understand those Muslims who did not/do not engage in such debates or Muslims who did not/do not believe in God? What do we do with Muslims who venerate natural sites (e.g., trees) or use bioenergy to heal others? While I wholly embrace Asad's focus on particular historical conditions that inform production of discourses about Islam, I offer to approach Islam as a human ecological adaptation to a particular socio-historical context through inbodied experiences (physical/emotional) expressed through a variety of embodied practices. This way, healing with bioenergy, venerating ancestors and natural objects or not believing in God and claiming to be Muslim, become comprehensible in CA, Eurasia and elsewhere. To exemplify this approach, I use ethnographic examples from the Ferghana Valley.
Does Central Eurasian Islam Need a Rethink?