Tattered Canopies Across Eurasia: New combinations of the religious, the secular, and the (ethno-)national after socialism

Chriss Hann


Using a metaphor of Peter Berger and ideas from Ernest Gellner as foils, this article investigates the links between the religious and the secular in group classi" cations and identi" cations in different macro-regions of Eurasia following the demise of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist socialism. The revival in European Russia of an intimate connection between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church is
paralleled by the “nationalization” of Islam in Central Asia, where power holders in the new republics have sought to instrumentalize the faith for legitimation purposes. The phenomena of “Orthodox atheist” and “cultural Muslim” also " find echoes in East Asia, where states still claiming to be socialist appropriate popular religion as cultural heritage and even orchestrate new rituals (e.g. to honor Confucius).This seems to be a “thin” religiosity, not incompatible with consumerism and secularization processes. Matters are more complex in the case of the Uyghurs, a large Turkic people who experience severe disadvantages in Xinjiang, N-W China, which is nominally their “Autonomous Region”. As
a result, they have fashioned a new sacred canopy in recent decades - a “thick” interweaving of ethnonational belonging and Islamic identi" cation. However the congruence of the secular and the religious is imperfect. The spectre of “political Islam” is conradicted by the fact that the designated territory of the Uyghurs is also home to several other Muslim ethnic groups, including some who speak only the language of the Han majority. Thus secular and religious identifications intersect in complex ways, not foreseen in Ernest Gellner’s “container” model of the nation-state.

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