It was a Dark and Stagnant Night (‘til the Jadids Brought the Light): Clichés, Biases, and False Dichotomies in the Intellectual History of Central Asia

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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This essay presents a broad critique of prevailing approaches to and assumptions about Jadidism, arguing that much earlier scholarship on the Jadids has misconstrued key aspects of their ‘program’ and has exaggerated their originality, impact, and importance. Following introductory discussions of the recurrent motifs and claims found in ‘Jadidocentric’ scholarship, the essay considers five issues in particular: (1) the academic bias through which scholars have taken the Jadids’ critique as reliably descriptive rather than polemical; (2) the neglect of earlier Central Asian manifestations of critiques similar to the Jadids’; (3) the analytical drawbacks of the notion of ‘modernity’ as used to characterize the Jadids; (4) neglect or denial of the religious character of the Jadids’ program; and (5) inattention to the wider intellectual history of Central Asia before and during the era of the Jadids.

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  • 2

    S. Frederick Starr, Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013): 534.

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  • 4

    I. Baldauf, “Jadidism in Central Asia within Reformism and Modernism in the Muslim World.” Die Welt des Islams 41 (2001): 72-88.

  • 5

    A. Khalid, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); see also id., Islam after Communism: Religion and Politics in Central Asia (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 2007): 34-49 (a chapter entitled “Empire and the Challenge of Modernity”), and id., “What Jadidism Was, and What It Wasn’t: The Historiographical Adventures of a Term.” Central Eurasian Studies Review 5/2 (2006): 3-7.

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  • 6

    R. D. Crews, For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006): 297.

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  • 7

    A. J. Frank, Islamic Historiography and ‘Bulghar’ Identity among the Tatars and Bashkirs of Russia (Leiden: Brill, 1998); id., Muslim Religious Institutions in Imperial Russia: The Islamic World of Novouzensk District and the Kazakh Inner Horde, 1780-1910 (Leiden: Brill, 2001); id., “Islamic Transformation on the Kazakh Steppe, 1742-1917: Toward an Islamic History of Kazakhstan under Russian Rule.” In The Construction and Deconstruction of National Histories in Slavic Eurasia, ed. Tadayuki Hayashi (Sapporo: Slavic Research Center, 2003): 261-289; id., Bukhara and the Muslims of Russia: Sufism, Education, and the Paradox of Islamic Prestige (Leiden: Brill, 2012); Allen J. Frank and Mirkasyim A. Usmanov, eds., An Islamic Biographical Dictionary of the Eastern Kazakh Steppe, 1770-1912: Qurbān-ʿAlī Khālidī (Leiden: Brill, 2005).

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  • 8

    E.g., M. Kemper, Sufis und Gelehrte in Tatarien und Baschkirien, 1789-1889: Der islamische Diskurs unter russischer Herrschaft (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 1998); id., “Entre Boukhara et la Moyenne-Volga: ʻAbd an-Naṣīr al-Qūrṣāwī (1776-1812) en conflit avec les oulémas traditionalistes.” Cahiers du monde russe 37/1-2 (1996): 41-51.

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  • 25

    This much is acknowledged in A. Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1990): 13, 15, 40-43 (without reference to the formation of a closed system).

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  • 34

    J. Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994): 5.

  • 55

    See M. Cook, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), especially 509-530, for some examples of the ‘modern’ evocations of the principle, as “the old concepts are being deployed in a new setting” (509).

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