This book presents a nuanced ethnographic study of Islam and secularism in post-Soviet Central Asia, as seen from the small town of Bazaar-Korgon in southern Kyrgyzstan. Julie McBrien explores belief and non-belief, varying practices of Islam, discourses of extremism, and the role of the state, to elucidate the everyday experiences of Bazaar-Korgonians. She shows how Islam is explored, lived, and debated in both conventional and novel sites, and argues that religion is not always a matter of belief— sometimes it is essentially about belonging. McBrien details the complex process of evolving religion in a region that has experienced both Soviet atheism and post-Soviet secularism, each of which has profoundly formed the way Muslims interpret and live Islam.
During the 1990s, there was a consensus that Central Asia was witnessing an Islamic revival after independence, and that this would follow similar events throughout the Islamic world in the prior two decades, which had negative effects on both social and political development. Twenty years later, we are still struggling to fully understand the transformation of Islam in a region that’s evolved through a complex and dynamic process, involving diversity in belief and practice, religious authority, and political intervention. This volume sheds light on these crucial questions by bringing together an international group of scholars who offer a fresh perspective on Central Asian states and societies.