The Transmission of Learning and Authority
in Muslim Northern Eurasia
(Eastern Europe, Russia,the Caucasus, Central Asia, China)
through the 20th Century

An International colloquium held with the support of
The Asia Committee of the European Science Foundation,

The Islamic Area Studies Project (Tokyo),
Maison des Sciences de l'Homme (Paris)


Paris, Carre des Sciences,
November 12-13, 2001


Report by
Stephane A. DUDOIGNON (CNRS, Strasbourg)


After many late cancellations and modifications linked, more or less directly, with the events of mid-September, the present colloquium has finally gathered fifteen participants from six European and Asiatic countries (France, Federation of Russia - including the two sovereign Republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan -, Japan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Uzbekistan), in the Carre des Sciences, a congress hall in the French Ministry of Research. The colloquium was funded by the European Science Foundation, with a financial contribution from the Islamic Area Studies Project of Japan (Tokyo) and from the UMR 7043 of the CNRS (Strasbourg), as well as with the technical support of the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme and Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris).

The concept of Northern Eurasia has been applied, in opposition to South Asia, to the vast, but discontinuous space which is included between the Balkans and mainland China, and is peopled notably by ancient and compact Muslim populations, whether in the majority or in the minority. This vast region has a long history of inter-penetration and conflicts between various cultural and religious systems, of European or Asiatic origin, notably Sunni Islam and Orthodox Christianity. However, a great part of the similarities that can be observed there in the relations between religion, state and society can be explained, at least in part, by the specific history of northern Eurasia during the 20th century - in particular by a common experiment of state communism.

The main object of our colloquium was an analysis of the evolution of the modes of transmission of learning (in particular, but not only, of religious learning) and of spiritual authority in the Muslim communities of Northern Eurasia, throughout this specific experiment. We have tried, notably, to determine the role which has been played in this process by various categories of learned men and women. We have studied the role of religious creeds and cultural values in the perception of communal identities, and the impact of the Communist systems on the evolution of these identities. In various contexts of rapid economic change, we have tried to see in which measure an economic growth contributes - or not - to an overall secularization, and does this phenomenon lead to a loss of traditional values. Conversely, we have tried to analyze the link between the economic upheavals of the last decades and the appearance of various kinds of religious fundamentalism. Last we have examined how this phenomenon had led, in regions with a heterogeneous population, to "interethnic" conflicts, and on the contrary in which conditions the pacific coexistence of different confessions can be granted.

The central aspect of our colloquium has been an overall interrogation on the qualitative change introduced, during the 20th century, in the modes of transmission of learning and spiritual authority, with a special interest in the relationship between written ("learned") and oral ("popular") cultures during periods of repression of the social forms of religious practice. We have tried to study the consequences of these changes on the social status of the intellectual authorities - in particular on the balance of roles between men and women. For example, the reinforcement of the position of women in the field of religious practices with a magic character (which has long been considered by ethnographs as a permanent characteristic of many Northern Eurasian societies) can be interpreted as a recent, modern phenomenon, which appears closely linked with the economic and social upheavals of the past two decades, and with the impact of these upheavals on the gender distribution of economic roles - see for instance the increasing role of women in the domestic economy of kolkhozian and post-kolkhozian structures.

Questions of this kind stress our current need in diachronical approaches, through a systematic identification of the relations between the social and spiritual fields. The discussions of the colloquium, on questions such as the gender distribution of roles and authority in the field of transmission of learning, or the variations of cultural ambivalence, in periods of repression or liberalization, have stressed the dynamic processes of the 20th century. They gave us numerous key elements for a critical reappraisal of the notion of "Islamic rebirth", so common in the current literature on Northern Eurasian Islamicate societies. The proceedings of the colloquium, with the addition of some papers by scholars who could not attend the meeting, should be published in English in a special volume during the year 2003. As to our cooperation with the European Science Foundation, it should be developed in the following years, through the organization of further meetings in comparative studies on the contemporary Islamicate societies of Northern Eurasia.

List of contributions:

Session 1: Oral and Written Culture
- Timour BEISEMBIEV (Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan, Almaty): The Nomads of the Ferghana Valley and Their Early Modern Historiography
- Constance-Helene HALFON-MICHEL (University of Paris VII Jussieu): From Oral to Written Culture: An Example from the Hui of China
- Sabine TREBINJAC (CNRS, Paris): Musical Learning in Xinjiang, Stage Right, Stage Left
- Leila BENSHILA (INaLCO, Paris): The Transmission of Islam in Tatarstan since 1991: Comparison between Kazan and the Oilfields

Session 2: High and Popular Culture
- Solayman RAHIMOV (Council of People's Deputies, Kazan): The Bubi Brothers and the Question of Rural Madrasas in the Early 20th-Century Urals
- Ismail TURKOGLU (Marmara University, Istanbul): The Mufti Fakhr al-Din and the Spiritual Direction of the Muslims of Russia (1921-1936)
- Aislu YUNUSOVA (State University, Ufa): Mystical Orders in the Urals, through the 20th Century: Tradition and Innovation
- Bakhtiyar BABADJANOV (Biruni Institute of Oriental Studies, Tashkent): The New Generation of Reformist Ulama in the Ferghana Valley: Their Ideas, Goals, Political Credo

Session 3: History and Memory
- Damir IS'HAQOV (Institute of History, Kazan): The Role of the Academic Intelligentsia in the Shaping of a Volga-Tatar National Consciousness (1940s to 1990s)
- UYAMA Tomohiko (Hokkaido University, Sapporo): "Devotion towards People" and Cultural Paternalism among Kazakh Intellectuals
- KOMATSU Hisao (The University of Tokyo): A Century-Long Controversy on the Jihad of Dukhchi Ishan (1898)
- Stephane A. DUDOIGNON (CNRS, Strasbourg): Local Lore, Transmission of Learning, and Communal Identity in Late 20th-Century Tajikistan

Session 4: A Typology of Authority?
- Ibrahim MARAS (Ankara University): The First Woman Qadi: Mukhlisa Bubi and the Soviet Regime (1917-1937)
- Rafyq MOHAMMATSHIN (Institute of the Encyclopaedia, Kazan): Muslim Religious People and the Intellectuals in Tatarstan (1917-1937)
- Leila CHEBBI-CHERIF (Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Paris): "New Religion" and Socialism: The Alliance for the Transmission of Religious Learning in China
- Elisabeth ALLES (CNRS, Paris): Chinese Muslim Women, from Autonomy to Dependence

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