FORUM FOR ANTHROPOLOGY AND CULTURE

ANTROPOLOGICHESKIJ FORUM
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Antropologicheskij forum, 2016, no. 28

 

A PRAYER FOR RAIN IN SOVIET CENTRAL ASIA (MUSLIM PRACTICES IN THE ATHEIST STATE)

Sergey Abashin

European University at St Petersburg
3 Gagarinskaya Str., St Petersburg, Russia
s-abashin()mail.ru

Abstract: The history of secularisation in the twentieth century is often described as the process of “driving religion out” of the social and political domain, and confining it to private, peripheral, and marginalized spaces. In this article, I explore how Islam fared in what was the most explicitly anti-religious society in the twentieth century, namely, the USSR. I argue that even in this extremely controlled society, there was a certain recognition of religion built into the administrative structures and patterns of behaviour. Drawing on ethnographic interpretation of a number of Muslim rituals that I observed in Central Asia from 1989–1991, I illustrate the ways in which religious identities and practices were legitimised under the Soviet regime, and the tools that made it possible to play the double game of revealing and concealing Muslimness. I argue against the attempt to essentialise Sovietness and Muslimness and against the explicit or implicit desire to define them comprehensively, draw precise demarcation lines between “Soviet” and “non-Soviet”, or “Muslim” and “non-Muslim”, and counterpose one against the other. We are able to see the different ways in which Muslimness can informally exist in the public sphere and merge with Soviet ideological rhetoric, as well as the double game in which various actors engage in their desire to retain, or make use of, particular identities and attributes. This approach does not deny the fact that there were repression and persecution campaigns against the religion, nor does it deny the fact that secular practices and convictions were widespread; it forces us, however, to avoid the simplistic, deterministic, and straightforward manner of writing about the recent Soviet past and post-Soviet present.

Keywords: rituals, Islam, Soviet identity, Central Asia, USSR.

To cite: Abashin S., 'Molitva o dozhde v sovetskoy Sredney Azii (musulmanskie praktiki v ateisticheskom gosudarstve)' [A Prayer for Rain in Soviet Central Asia (Muslim Practices in the Atheist State)], Antropologicheskij forum, 2016, no. 28, pp. 155–179.

URL: http://anthropologie.kunstkamera.ru/files/pdf/028/abashin.pdf