An impressive piece of work based on a very large body of ethnographic material collected over an extensive period of time. The fine portraits and life stories around which the presentation of the ethnography is structured work really well to capture the complexities and nuances in people's ideas about and practice of Islam.
David W. Montgomery presents a rich ethnographic study on the practice and meaning of Islamic life in Kyrgyzstan. As he shows, becoming and being a Muslim are based on knowledge acquired from the surrounding environment, enabled through the practice of doing. Through these acts, Islam is imbued in both the individual and the community. To Montgomery, religious practice and lived experience combine to create an ideological space that is shaped by events, opportunities, and potentialities that form the context from which knowing emerges. This acquired knowledge further frames social navigation and political negotiation. Through his years of on-the-ground research, Montgomery assembles both an anthropology of knowledge and an anthropology of Islam, demonstrating how individuals make sense of and draw meanings from their environments. He reveals subtle individual interpretations of the religion and how people seek to define themselves and their lives as “good” within their communities and under Islam. Based on numerous in-depth interviews, bolstered by extensive survey and data collection, Montgomery offers the most thorough English-language study to date of Islam in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan. His work provides a broad view into the cognitive processes of Central Asian populations that will serve students, researchers, and policymakers alike.
David W. Montgomery is research professor in the Department of Government and Politics and the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland and director of program development for CEDAR—Communities Engaging with Difference and Religion. His books include Practicing Islam: Knowledge, Experience, and Social Navigation in Kyrgyzstan; Living with Difference: How to Build Community in a Divided World; and Everyday Life in the Balkans.