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February 09, 2009

Project on Islam in Eurasia - Harvard University

I would like to draw your attention to a new project which seeks a
better understanding of Islam in Eurasia -- especially Central Asia,
the Caucasus, and Muslim regions of Russia -- and we invite your
involvement in this initiative.

The Project on Islam in Eurasia was established in the fall of 2008,
motivated by the conviction that the great bulk of the attention
devoted to Islam in the former Soviet Union -- both by scholars and
policy makers -- has thus far been guided by the narrow question of
whether the radicalization of Islam will present a challenge to the
security of the region. We believe firmly that the importance of
Islam in this region is not limited to the supposed danger that it
poses for existing regimes or secular values. Indeed, Islam is
integral to the culture and society of this region, and the dramatic
changes affecting the social role of Islam following the demise of
Soviet rule offer rich material for analysis and will have tremendous
importance for the future of the societies of the region.

The themes of particular interest for the Project include:
* The ways that Muslims are seeking to define a role for Islamic belief and practice in their societies where many traditional forms of observance were discouraged, disparaged, or persecuted during Soviet times.
* The diversity of religious orientations, including efforts alternatively to revive local traditions such as those associated
with Sufism, to reinterpret Islam and make it more consonant with "modernity", and to "purify" Islam, often drawing inspiration from forms of Islamic observance prevalent in the Arab world or Pakistan.
* The institutions of education, spiritual and community leadership, and propagation of faith, which represent these developing orientations.
* The expression of differing conceptions of traditional, modern or Islamic identity through community practices (funerals, weddings, and other celebrations and gatherings), as well as forms of dress (head coverings, modest attire, imported styles, etc.).
* The ways that individuals are referring to Islam to answer their
very personal questions and to address problems such as inter-generational tensions or the abuse of alcohol.
* The ways that political figures and governments appeal to Islam as a part of national heritage or as a basis for social reforms (such as the official acceptance of polygamy), and the response in local communities to such political appeals.
* The impacts, on the community level, of efforts by governments and outside actors (proselytizers, foreign governments) to promote their preferred form of religion, and the ways that these efforts resonate with different local groups.
* The differing visions of the role of women in education, the public sphere, child-rearing, and religious ritual.
* The continuing influence of Soviet culture on forms of observance and social attitudes, such as the emphasis on collectivism and social justice or the conviction that women have a role to play in the public realm.

We invite those who share our interest in Islam's diversity and social dynamics to join the network that we are building in connection with the Project. Involvement in the Project means sharing in the exchange of information (especially through the Islam-Eurasia-L list; see below), and may involve participation in other activities of the Project such as conferences and public seminars.

The Project is funded by a three-year grant from the Carnegie
Corporation of New York. The planned activities and outcomes of the
Project include:
* Research on these themes in a number of locations across Eurasia, carried out by a team of researchers - mainly scholars based in the region.
* A conference on "The Changing Social Role of Islam in Post-Soviet Eurasia" in March 2009, that will gather a number of the scholars who have been most focused on these issues, with the purpose of making an assessment of the current state of scholarship and identifying key issues that deserve further investigation. Other conferences will be held during subsequent years of the Project.
* Two book-length publications, one based on the conference in March 2009, and the other based on the results of the Project's three years of research.
* A number of policy briefs, aimed at informing policy- and opinion-makers about the important implications of a better understanding of Islam's changing role in the region.
* Presentations, roundtable discussions, and press contacts aimed at promoting a better public understanding of these social processes and their implications, to be held both in the West and within the region.

To learn more about the project and become involved:
* Visit the Project's website at http://islam-eurasia.fas.harvard.edu
* Join the Project's mailing list for occasional announcements about
events, publications, etc. at
http://islam-eurasia.fas.harvard.edu/ie_maillist.html (or by email at
islam-eurasia@fas.harvard.edu)
* Participate in the network of information exchange through the
Islam-Eurasia-L listserv
http://islam-eurasia.fas.harvard.edu/ie_listserv.html

We welcome and appreciate your involvement in this new project.

Posted by kpfister at February 9, 2009 12:29 PM

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