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Bounding Belief - National and Religious Identities in Central Asia

Authors: Vincent Artman*, Miami University
Topics: Religion, Political Geography, Eurasia
Keywords: religion, state, secularism, central asia, nationalism
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As has been the case elsewhere in Central Asia, the Kyrgyz government has concerned itself since 1991 with fostering patriotism and national identity. An important aspect of this process has been the revival, patronage, and celebration of national culture. The process of nation building has also coincided with a putative “Islamic revival.” The government and official Islamic institutions in Kyrgyzstan, however, have sought to regulate this revival, elaborating what might be called a “national theology.” Often referred to as “traditional Kyrgyz Islam,” this theology is conceived of as moderate, patriotic, and compatible with Kyrgyz culture. The proper relationship between religion and national identity, in this formulation, is one in which the former explicitly accommodates the latter. Crucially, this relationship challenges traditional notions of secularism and the separation of church and state.

However, it is not enough to simply concede that the political and the religious intersect and comingle in certain contexts. Rather, understanding the significance of this relationship also requires asking how these dynamics play out in particular times and places. To what extent can we say that the territorial state is imbued with sacred significance, either via narratives pertaining to national identity, discourses of national theology, or in the landscape itself? This paper will explore these questions, using the case of Kyrgyzstan to advance a concept of the state that draws attention its often unacknowledged religious imbrications.

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