This article assesses the salience for Central Asia of Ernest Gellner’s theories about Islam, modernity and nationalism. Gellner has argued that modernisation homogenises culture and that this process goes together with nationalism and certain changes of emphasis within Islam. In Central Asia, Soviet modernisation did not bring long-lasting cultural or social standardisation. Evidence for this is that the traditional respect given to the status of ‘saintly’ families has not disappeared, as Gellner would have predicted, but has continued, though in different forms in rural and urban societies. People in Central Asia have complex identities that may sometimes cross-cut the city agrarian divide. In this post-colonial modernising environment, nationalism has not swept all before it, but is regarded by many people with some suspicion.