State Regulation of Religion in Three Central Asian Republics

State Regulation of Religion in Three Central Asian Republics

March 27, 2013

March 27, 2013

David Levy, PhD Candidate, Boston University, USA

Abstract: The states of Central Asia have adopted increasingly restrictive laws on religion in response to the perceived threats to the stability and civility of their political communities emanating from religious quarters. The stated purpose of these efforts is to prevent the operation of "destructive" and "extremist" religious groups in the region and preserve secular governance and pluralism. Critics argue, however, that such policies are counter-productive, forcing moderate religious groups underground and instilling a sense of resistance in religious groups that previously had no political agenda. These critics offer two general explanations as to why these regimes pursue counterproductive policies: regional coordination of security policy, often under the influence of outside powers, and a focus on retaining short-term power that leads these regimes to miscalculate their own long-term interests. However, beneath convergence on formal policies, these explanations fail to explain the variation in how religious regulation is implemented, especially the great variation in actions taken against entirely benign religious groups - i.e. those with no known or suspected political agenda.

In this research, I hypothesize that censure of a particular religious group or organization does not solely or even primarily reflect the regime's estimation of that group's potential security or political impact, but rather the degree to which that group's, beliefs, activities, or affiliations affront the spectacle of national unity upon which regime mobilization of cadres depends. I will test this hypothesis with an analysis of the religious policies of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, in light of variation in the political and religious characteristics of each political community.

Bio: David Levy completed his BA in Sociology, Linguistics, and Russian at the University of Georgia in 2004. After earning a Masters degree in Nationalism Studies at Central European University in Budapest in 2005, he taught Sociology for three years at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. He is interested in the relationship between political and economic systems and the cultural worlds in which they operate, particularly with regard to the post-Soviet space. His current PhD research focuses on the regulation of religious organizations and activities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.


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