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Nation, Religion, and Theology: What Do We Mean When We Say “Being Kyrgyz Means Being Muslim?” Open Access

Scholars of Central Asia often view religion and ethno-national identity as being linked: “to be Kyrgyz (or Uzbek, Kazakh, etc.) is to be Muslim.” The specific ways in which the relationship between ethno-national identity and religion is constructed and understood, however, have not been adequately researched. “Being Muslim” is not merely an ethnic marker: it can imply a range of different, perhaps even competing, theologies with different relationships to national identity. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Kyrgyzstan in 2014, this article investigates the question of what it means to be Kyrgyz and to be Muslim by undertaking a comparative analysis of two Islamic discourses: Kyrgyz ethno-national traditionalism and the normative Maturidi Hanafism promoted by the Kyrgyz state and the religious authorities. What emerges is a portrait of a complex and variegated religious landscape, one in which the meaning of being Kyrgyz and Muslim is continually questioned and renegotiated.

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