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5 Shamanism and Islam in Central Asia. Two Antinomic Religious Universes?

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Chapter Summary

The word shamanism is formed from saman, which, in the language of the Tungusic peoples of Eastern Siberia, means a figure who mediates between the world of men and the world of spirits, acting as a soothsayer, healer, and sorcerer. In the Qurʾān, the word Islam means submission and self-abnegation to one sole transcendent and all-powerful God. The first contacts between shamanism and Islam took place when the Arabs formed an alliance with the Turks against the Chinese, who were crushed at Talas in 751. Examples of the apparent interpenetration of Islam and shamanism have been observed in Central Asia. Interpreting these religious phenomena is, however, a delicate matter. Denounced in the Soviet period as a backward superstition, shamanism nonetheless seems to have survived in Central Asia under the guise of Sufi Islam.

Keywords: Arabs; Central Asia; Chinese; Islam; Qurʾān; shamanism; Soviet period; Turks



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