'Explaining' Islam in Central Asia: An Anthropological Approach for Uzbekistan

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The debate about religion in Central Asia, and specifically Uzbekistan, revolves either around the need to combat extremism as terrorism or the necessity for the state to stop oppressing ordinary believers in fear of a religious takeover of the society. This paper shall demonstrate that neither of these hypothetical axes is necessarily bad or wrong, but they leave out crucial factors explaining the rise in religious behavior and practice in Uzbekistan today. Using ethnography, my discussion will show how religious movements in Uzbekistan can be seen as part youth rebellion and part opposition to the current monolithic Uzbek political system. The paper will demonstrate that religion in Central Asia operates as a force reaching beyond its politicization to the social fabric of daily life. It will highlight the legacy of Central Asian Islam, especially the Islam of the various schools of thought that characterize Uzbekistan's cities as well as the population‐dense Ferghana Valley. In concluding, I will argue that people, whether religious or not, are not simply prey to extremists and that ignoring contemporary culture and history as a Muslim Uzbek people makes broad comparisons to countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan ill‐informed.


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Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs

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