Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationToronto, U. of
Grant numberGr. 9673
Approve DateApril 19, 2018
Project TitleBoron, Usmon, U. of Toronto, Toronto, Canada - To aid research on 'Secularity, Aspiration, and Religious Failure in Post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan,' supervised by Dr. Amira Mittermaier
Preliminary abstract: In the early 20th century the Soviet state embarked on a violent campaign of secularizing Muslim-majority Central Asia. The state closed down most mosques in the region, gradually suffocated traditional modes of knowledge transmission, and marginalized Islamic practices of ethical self-cultivation (i.e. disciplinary practices that include the five daily prayers, veiling, and fasting) among the majority of Central Asian Muslims. However, converting everyone to atheism, a major aspect of Soviet ideology, proved to be impossible, as many people continued to believe in God and identify as Muslims, no matter how alienated from legal and theological aspects of the Islamic tradition they became. In 1991 the USSR collapsed. In Central Asia this event triggered revivals of local (and influxes of transnational) grassroots discourses of Islamic normativity that urged Muslims to learn the basic tenets of Islamic theology and to fulfil daily ritual obligations. A remarkable feature of this historical situation is that while a longing to live up to normative conceptions of Islamic piety is increasingly common among lay Central Asian Muslims, many express a reluctance to embrace more orthodox forms of religiosity, and espouse a regretful sense that, despite their firm religious beliefs, they are failing to become committed to performing the five daily prayers and other practices deemed central to Islam. Combining ethnographic fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan with archival research, this project attends to concepts, sensibilities, and modes of argumentation that constitute and articulate these experiences. In doing so, it sheds light on how self-proclaimed senses of religious failure relate to conceptual and affective landscapes shaped by Soviet secularism.