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Maria Louw

Recent studies have convincingly demonstrated that Soviet state atheism continues to influence how religion is understood and practiced in present-day Central Asia. In Kyrgyzstan, however, a new generation of atheists is emerging whose ideas about atheism—and about religion—are informed more by globally circulating neo-atheist ideas and images. This paper explores their efforts to live atheist lives and be true to their atheist convictions, and the images of religion that play into the process. Focusing on the role of social media in particular, I will argue that while many, at least initially, embrace these platforms as ways to encounter like-minded individuals and experience moral community, what they encounter there are often images of atheism and its religious “others” with which they cannot identify and which often seem irrelevant to the challenges of everyday life, in which coexistence with (and caring for) religious others are central concerns for many.

Benjamin Gatling

For many members of the Tajik governing elite, Muslim piety remains problematic—a stubborn, socially regressive holdover of anti-modern Tajiks—and Muslim leaders are often thought of merely as anachronistic cultural survivals. This paper interrogates the depiction of Muslim exemplars as they appear on Tajik state television by comparing a 2009 documentary about the life of Imomi Abūḣanifa, the eponymous founder of the Ḣanafī school of jurisprudence, with an exposé about Ėshoni Temur, a local Naqshbandī Sufi pir tried and convicted in 2015 for polygyny and various indeterminate offenses against official notions of Muslim religiosity. This article considers different regimes of Muslim alterity as depicted on state media and argues that the Tajik governing elite alternately renders problematic Islam as innocuous heritage or in need of swift extermination.

Eren Tasar

This paper takes stock of “Islamic media” in the ussr by reviewing the kinds of sources that are available for the study of Islam in the Soviet Union, and, more importantly, exploring how social historians can use them. What follows is a detailed discussion of three genres of materials: anti-religious propaganda; correspondence of the official organizations engaged with Islam; and what, for convenience’s sake, I will term Islamic samizdat (popular religious literature and the few available autobiographies of ‘ulama).

Diana T. Kudaibergenova

This article examines diverse perceptions and discourses of Islam, fundamentalism, spirituality, and culture in the contemporary Central Asian context, revealed through the study of contemporary art and its discussions about these phenomena. While many online sources and social media accounts provide a framework for different types of religiosity—cultural, pious, or fundamental—contemporary art in the region serves as a platform for critiquing religion as a whole. I use the examples of the most famous works by prominent Central Asian contemporary artists, who discuss Tengriism, Islam, and other religious practices in their works, performances, and videos. The diversity of online platforms that transfer discussions of Islam and religion to the digital forums through which third-wave artists promote their works also create space for more pluralistic views of—and discourses on—Islam.

Wendell Schwab

There is an ongoing debate in Kazakhstani mass media over what constitutes proper Islamic belief and conduct. This paper examines a running dispute between Zikiriya Zhandarbek, an intellectual based at a university in southern Kazakhstan, and scripturalist Islamic institutions, such as the Kazakhstani Muftiate and the Islamic television channel Asyl Arna. In his tirades against “Salafist” and “untraditional” members of the Muftiate and Asyl Arna, Zhandarbek uses rhetoric inviting identification with domestic traditions and Akhmed Yasawi, a local Sufi saint. Conversely, scripturalists’ rhetoric identifies them as scholars working to revive knowledge of the Qur’an and Islam. However, both parties claim to represent the Kazakh nation, showing the overwhelming importance of nationalist rhetoric in Kazakhstan today.

Shahnoza Nozimova and Tim Epkenhans

The recent transformation of Tajikistan’s political system has significantly altered the social and political context in which the country’s lay Muslims and religious elites negotiate Islam and Islamic normativity. The quasi-governmental Islamic Center (Markazi Islomi) has taken on a more dominant role, becoming the sole official (state-approved) Islamic institution in Tajikistan defining Islamic normativity. In this work, we explore the rationale behind the Tajik state’s pursuit of this political trajectory, conduct a detailed examination of the religious edicts ( fatwas) issued by the Islamic Center, and identify its conservative trends. Our research suggests that the Islamic Center offers the Tajik government a way to achieve its much-desired monopoly over the religious field. Furthermore, we argue that the Islamic Center’s conservative interpretation of Islam, with its emphasis on political conformity, social patriarchy, and limited mystical experience, is far more “legible” and administratively manageable for the authoritarian regime than the previous religious pluralism.

Ulan Bigozhin

This paper examines the construction of Islamic authority in Kazakhstani online media. I build on the growing scholarship in Central Asian studies that questions the logocentric nature of Islamic authority, even for scripturalist Muslims. Taking the YouTube channel of Abdughappar Smanov as a case study, I argue that some scripturalist preachers in Kazakhstan construct their Islamic authority by tapping into Soviet, Kazakh, and global currents of masculinity and sport.

Bahtiyar Kurambayev, Mary L. Sheffer Ph.D. and Ecaterina Stepaniuc Ph.D.

The results of a survey of journalists in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan (N=211) demonstrate that they primarily see their societal role as being to mobilize people with common interests and provide objective analysis. The media’s traditional role as a watchdog, meanwhile, was rated least important by journalists in the country, which is widely considered the “most democratic” in Central Asia. The study also found that the majority described themselves as being “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied” professionally, a feeling directly impacted by their income, sense of autonomy, and supervisor’s perceived ability. Low salary, disagreement with editorial policy, and excessive pressure were found to be the leading reasons that Kyrgyz journalists left the profession. This research extends previous knowledge of journalists’ job satisfaction by examining the often-overlooked region of Central Asia. The surveys were conducted between April 29 and May 19, 2016, primarily in the Russian and Kyrgyz languages.

Natsuko Oka

Previous studies on informal exchanges in the health care sector in post-socialist states have extensively discussed their complex and diverse nature, in particular the difficulty in distinguishing between gratuities and bribes given to health care providers. In examining this in Kazakhstan, I argue that the ongoing privatization of health care has blurred the boundary between official user fees and informal payments given as a reward for quality care. This has, in turn, sharpened the contrast between informal payments given in the expectation of proper treatment and money extorted by health practitioners. This paper also demonstrates that ordinary people often circumvent formal procedures by using money to obtain services to which they are not officially entitled or to gain access to public medical funding.