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The Dynamics of Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy in Uyghur Religious Practice

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The framework of this paper is provided by a theoretical discussion of the scholarly terms “orthodoxy” and “heterodoxy” and their heuristic value. Local Islam among the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, PRC as well as among other Muslim peoples in Central Asia has often been discussed either as something different from an assumed “real”, “pure” or “official” Islam, or as a distinct religious system in its own right. Such approaches, however, sometimes lose sight of the fact that the question of what “Uyghur Islam” is supposed to be is negotiated among Uyghurs themselves no less vigorously. Traditional practices such as ritual healing and saint veneration are highly contested, yet widely adhered to in Uyghur society. This article examines the complex structures and processes of the religious discourses concerning such practices and some features of their embeddedness in historical, social and political settings. One finding is an increased reference to Islamic scripturalism as a legitimizing strategy for certain ideas, mainly for those targeted at “purifying” Uyghur Islam from local practices.

Affiliations: 1: Heidelberg


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