Religion and Nationality in Post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan: A Field Report

Religion and Nationality in Post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan: A Field Report

November 12, 2014

November 12, 2014

Vincent M. Artman, PhD. Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Kansas

Abstract: The process of articulating viable post-Soviet national identities in Central Asian states has entailed the mobilization of history, myth, and symbol. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the epic “Manas” is not only a cherished cultural symbol, but it also serves as the focal point for Kyrgyz nationalist ideology. Not only does the epic document and legitimate the Kyrgyz claim to the territory of Kyrgyzstan itself, but it also serves as a unique “compendium” of Kyrgyz culture and traditions.

Concurrent with the consolidation of Kyrgyz national identity, however, has been the rapid growth of interest in Islam. Although these are sometimes seen as countervailing trends, in reality they are often closely connected and mutually reinforcing. However, if religion and national identity are difficult to entirely separate from one another, their relationship is rarely simple or uncontested. For its part, the government hopes to promote Islam as part of Kyrgyz national identity, but also seeks increasingly to regulate it and bring it under control of the state.
Drawing upon five months of fieldwork, this paper examines some of the ways in which Kyrgyz people make sense of the complex relationship between their religion, their national identity, and the state.

Bio: Vincent M. Artman is a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Kansas. His research interests revolve around the role of religion in the modern public sphere, in particular how it intersects with national identity. His dissertation research seeks to understand the conflation of religious and national identities in Central Asia implicit in the common – and frequently taken-for-granted – adage that "to be Kyrgyz is to be Muslim” by focusing on the role of Islam in the Kyrgyz collective memory. He is currently in the process of collecting data for this project, and his fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan will be completed at the end of December, 2014.


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