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‘Culture’ as a tool and an obstacle: missionary encounters in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan

Authors

  • Mathijs Pelkmans

    Corresponding author
    1. London School of Economics and Political Science
      Department of Anthropology, A604, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK. M.E.Pelkmans@lse.ac.uk
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Department of Anthropology, A604, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK. M.E.Pelkmans@lse.ac.uk

Abstract

The relatively large number of converts from Islam to evangelical Christianity in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan is exceptional in the Muslim world and has challenged local confidence that Islam is an inseparable element of Kyrgyz nationality. I argue that part of the missionary success stems from unexpected synergies between communist cultural legacies and new evangelical approaches. Both communists and evangelicals attempted to advance their ideals by disconnecting religion and culture. But although these efforts delivered tangible results, they also had the (unintended) consequence of folklorizing and objectifying ‘culture’, thereby partly re-inscribing the ethnic boundaries that they intended to overcome.

Résumé

Le nombre relativement important de musulmans convertis au christianisme évangélique dans le Kirghizstan post-soviétique est exceptionnel dans le monde musulman et ébranle la croyance locale que l'islam est indissociable de l'identité nationale kirghize. L'auteur affirme qu'une partie du succès des missionnaires provient de la synergie inattendue entre l'héritage culturel communiste et la nouvelle approche évangélique. Les communistes aussi bien que les chrétiens évangéliques ont tenté de faire progresser leurs idéaux en dissociant religion et culture. Bien que ces efforts donnent des résultats tangibles, ils ont aussi eu la conséquence involontaire de folkloriser et d'objectiver la « culture », en retraçant ainsi les frontières ethniques qu'ils avaient cherchéà abolir.

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