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Adaptive Compromisers or Inventive Reformers: Communities, Religion and Ideology in Late Socialism in Central and Inner Asia

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Pioneering historical comparison between Soviet Central Asia and socialist Mongolia in the last decades of socialism, this article aims to assess the role of international factors and regional geopolitics in the policies of socialist states towards religious institutions and communities. It also traces long- term sociocultural transformations of Muslim and Buddhist communities in comparative perspective, and questions how individuals and groups responded to antireligious social campaigns, adapted to newly introduced institutions and reframed their religious identities throughout. The research is based on archival and oral- history data, while reflections upon the concepts of secularity and religion assist in working out a critical approach to the sources. The article raises the complex question of fading religiosity in the religious rites and ceremonies which persisted into socialism and beyond, explored alongside the sacral meaning imposed and found in communist commemorations and socialist cults. It argues for the necessity of analysing communities in the shared historical space where foreign state policies and individual histories intersect. While post- Second World War Middle Eastern geopolitics impacted upon the reestablishment of legal Muslim institutions in Soviet Central Asia, the status of socialist Mongolia vis- à- vis Peking became an additional motivation for the Mongolian communists’ assault on the lamas. In Soviet Central Asia in the 1970s–1980s, social life was still centred on Islamic rituals, while in Mongolia, where socialist cults laid down deeper roots, the population demonstrated more profound sacral perception of communal commemorations than Central Asians.

Affiliations: 1: Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany


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