Cultures Of Islam: Vernacular Traditions and Revisionist Interpretations across Russia
Edited by Marlene Laruelle and Jesko Schmoller
This edited volume is the product of an online workshop that took place virtually at the George Washington University in October 2020. The workshop was part of a three-year project, “Islam in Russia, Russia in the Islamic World,” itself part of the Central Eurasia-Religion in International Affairs (CERIA) initiative. Launched in summer 2014 by GW’s Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (IERES) and its Central Asia Program (CAP), CERIA inscribes itself in a broader effort at the Elliott School of International Affairs to bring greater academic and policy attention to the place of religion in international affairs. Generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, CERIA has since amplified synergies with existing programs at the Elliott School, in particular the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) and the MA in Islamic Studies, and deepened interdisciplinary discussions within the faculty, as well as with several university partners in the DC area.
In this publication, authors take a closer look at the relationship between Islam and various aspects of culture. Many Muslims in Russia perceive an overlap between their religious and ethnic/national identities. They are born into families with Muslim heritage, where some religious practices are associated with ethnic belonging and “national traditions,” or where people feel a spiritual connection to the land of their ancestors. For them, Islam and culture are closely entangled. A growing number of Muslim believers, however, disagree with this perspective and instead advocate for strict separation of the two spheres. In their opinion, the message of Islam is universal; ethnic tradition and national sentiments should be kept out of it. When faced with the question of learning a new language, for instance, adherents of what they themselves consider to be pure Islam would typically opt for Arabic instead of one of the ethnic minority languages of Russia. Given their embrace of a global outlook, identity politics at the regional or local level rarely mean much to them. When the authors who contribute to “Cultures of Islam” write about questions of identity, education, activism, or the Islam of migrant groups, we may recognize both positions among Muslims in Russia: Islam and culture thought of as separate or in combination with one another.
Scholars published in this volume reflect upon case studies from regions across Russia: Siberia, the Volga region, Crimea (with its ambiguous status), and the more central parts of the country. In an open discussion, the participants attended to the diversity of Muslim belief and practice in a range of Russian locations. In these pages, we wish to interrogate when and why some aspects of culture (national, ethnic, regional, local) gain influence. Whose interests are being served and what kind of power struggles can be determined? Do global and other interpretations of Islam clash or do they co-exist? Our authors are therefore confronted with the uneasy convergence of one Islamic revelation, on the one hand, and a multitude of Muslim traditions, on the other.