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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3.4 (2002) 728-738



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Devin DeWeese, Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde: Baba Tükles and Conversion to Islam in Historical and Epic Tradition. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994. xvii + 638 pp. ISBN 0-271-01073-8 (paper). $31.50.
Allen J. Frank, Islamic Historiography and "Bulghar" Identity among the Tatars and Bashkirs of Russia. Leiden: Brill, 1998. ix + 232 pp. ISBN 90-04-11021-6. €75.00.
Stéphane A. Dudoignon, Dämir Is'haqov, and Räfiq Möhämmätshin, eds., L'Islam de Russie: Conscience communautaire et autonomie politique chez les Tatars de la Volga et de l'Oural depuis le XVIIIe siècle. Actes du colloque international à Qazan, 29 avril-1 juin 1996. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1997. 352 pp. ISBN 2-7068-1300-8.

Islam in Inner Asia has been marginalized as an object of scholarly interest for much of the 20th century. 1 The geopolitical transformations after World War I led Islamic studies in Europe and North America to narrow its focus to a small segment of the Muslim world - the Arabic-speaking lands, Iran, Turkey, and (sometimes) South Asia. The Muslim lands of the Russian empire were largely forgotten. 2 This exclusion was further reinforced by the fact that Russian was not cultivated in Islamic studies outside the Soviet Union. Those who studied Central Asia often entered the field via "nationalities studies" and thus had little or no background in Islam. The radical secularization of the Muslim intelligentsias of Inner Asia (both in the Soviet Union and in emigration) ensured that there was great hesitation in emphasizing the Islamic heritage of Inner Asia. Within the Soviet Union, conditions were hardly propitious for the scholarly study of Islam. While Soviet scholars produced many ethnographic studies on Islamic practice in the Soviet Union, a combination of ideological constraints (the justification [End Page 728] for studying Islam was to improve methods of struggling with religion) and methodological limitations (a Soviet Marxism smugly satisfied in its 19th-century faith in objective criteria and uncontaminated by the angst produced in the "bourgeois world" by decolonization) kept this literature distinct from its counterpart in Europe and North America.

If Islam in Inner Asia was understudied, the religious history of the region remained practically a closed book, for while the study of Islam in Soviet society had some aktual'nost' during the Soviet period, the same could not be said for religious history. As a result, we lack a sophisticated understanding of the religious life of the Muslims of Inner Asia, and are left with little more than vague (and, as Devin DeWeese argues, manifestly incorrect) assertions that, for instance, Islam "sits lightly" upon the people of Inner Asia, whose conversion is either recent or superficial. The situation has begun to change in the last decade as a new generation of post-Cold War scholarship begins to break down the linguistic and methodological barriers that separated Inner Asia from the broader world of Islamic studies. The books under review here form part of an emerging new literature that, by combining contemporary methodologies with prodigious linguistic abilities and documentary work, promises to take our understanding of Islam in Inner Asia to a new level of sophistication.

There is no shortage of sources for the study of Islam in Inner Asia. In addition to possessing a vibrant oral tradition, the Muslims of Inner Asia produced a substantial literary tradition that included genres such as sacred history, historiography, genealogy, hagiography, biographical dictionaries, and shrine catalogues, and which survives in several large holdings (the largest collections are in Tashkent, Kazan, and St. Petersburg). Yet a great deal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-5000
Print ISSN
1531-023x
Pages
pp. 728-738
Launched on MUSE
2002-11-27
Open Access
No
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