"Proper" Muslim Against "Authentic" Kyrgyz: The Formation of Islamic Field and Secular Challenges in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2010

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



I look at the process of turning public figures into two opposing groups around two opposing poles by focusing on the encounter between the post-Soviet present and the legacies of Soviet history. I demonstrate that Soviet nationality and religion policies created the still prevailing notion that “Muslimness is equal, if not subordinate, to Kyrgyzness”. In this equation, Muslimness is stripped off from its religious content and is made subordinate to Kyrgyzness, which is defined through language, customs, and values unique to the Kyrgyz. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the institutions that created and maintained the definition of Muslimness as such have also collapsed. In addition, the liberal policies post-Soviet Kyrgyzstani governments introduced in matters of religion and economics opened the country to outside world and provided the Kyrgyz with new opportunities and means to challenge the identification of Islam with Kyrgyz traditions and to promote a view of Muslimness that is no more defined within the limits of Kyrgyzness but more parallel with the global trends of Islamization. Throughout the study, I show that Islamic actors’ emphasis on Islamic normative standards in the definition of “proper” Muslimness is an outcome of the rapid contact Kyrgyz Muslims experienced with foreign Muslims and institutions, the absence of a previously established Islamic structure that could challenge such reforming attempts, and the eagerness of Kyrgyz to catch up with the rest of the Muslim world after years of marginalization.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

John Bowen

Committee Members

Robert Canfield, Geoff Childs, Ahmet Karamustafa, Mohamed-Salah Omri, James Wertsch


Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.7936/K75H7D68

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