Long associated with its aggressive promotion of atheism, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union adopted a nuanced, flexible, and often contradictory approach toward Islam in the USSR’s largest Muslim region, Central Asia. In his lecture, Eren Tasar will demonstrate how the Soviet state unwittingly set in motion a process of institutionalization during World War II that culminated in a permanent space for Islam in a society ruled by atheists. Central Asia was the sole Muslim region of the former Russian empire to lack a centralized Islamic organization, or muftiate. When the Soviet leader Stalin created such a body for the region as part of his religious reforms during World War II, he acknowledged that the Muslim faith could enjoy some legal protection under Communist rule. From a skeletal and disorganized body run by one family of Islamic scholars out of a modest house in Tashkent’s old city, this muftiate acquired great political importance in the eyes of Soviet policymakers, and equally significant symbolic significance for many Muslims. Islam did not merely “survive” the decades from World War II until the Soviet collapse in 1991, but actively shaped the political and social context of Soviet Central Asia. Muslim figures, institutions, and practices evolved in response to the social and political reality of Communist rule. Through an analysis that spans all aspects of Islam under Soviet rule—from debates about religion inside the Communist Party, to the muftiate’s efforts to acquire control over mosques across Central Asia, changes in Islamic practices and dogma, and overseas propaganda targeting the Islamic World—Prof. Tasar will offer a radical new reading of Islam’s resilience and evolution under atheist rule.
Eren Tasar is Assistant Professor of History at UNC Chapel Hill. He previously taught at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Washington University in St. Louis. A native of Massachusetts, he received his Ph.D at Harvard under the supervision of Terry Martin.
Part of the Muslim Societies Across the World lecture series.