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October 2017
240 pages  
48 b&w Illustrations
6 x 9
9780822965084
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From Belonging to Belief
Modern Secularisms and the Construction of Religion in Kyrgyzstan
McBrien, Julie
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.
Julie McBrien is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Amsterdam.
“Through her close-in studies of religion, secularism and modernity in Kyrgyzstan, as manifest across weddings and Portuguese television to debates over mosques and schools, McBrien makes a powerful case for bringing Soviet and post-Soviet nonliberal forms of secularism into current analytical debates.”—John R. Bowen, Washington University in St. Louis

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Central Eurasia in Context
Central Asian Studies
Anthropology
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From Belonging to Belief 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. Opening with the juxtaposition of a statue of Lenin and a mosque in the town square, Julie McBrien proceeds to peel away the multiple layers that have shaped the return of public Islam in the region. She explores belief and nonbelief, varying practices of Islam, discourses of extremism, and the role of the state, to elucidate the everyday experiences of Bazaar-Korgonians. McBrien shows how Islam is explored, lived, and debated in both conventional and novel sites: a Soviet-era cleric who continues to hold great influence; popular television programs; religious instruction at wedding parties; clothing; celebrations; and others. Through ethnographic research, McBrien reveals how moving toward Islam is not a simple step but rather a deliberate and personal journey of experimentation, testing, and knowledge acquisition. Moreover, she argues that religion is not always a matter of belief—sometimes it is essentially about belonging.

From Belonging to Belief offers an important corrective to studies that focus only on the pious turns among Muslims in Central Asia, and instead shows 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.

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