Institut für Iranistik / Institute of Iranian Studies Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften
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Beyond Islamic Modernism: Reassessing Cultural Change among the Muslim Communities of Central Asia, Russia, and Western China (19th-20th Centuries)
International Conference at Harvard University / USA

Harvard University, CGIS-South, Belfer Case Study Room

Jeff Eden (Harvard University) and
Paolo Sartori (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Sponsored by:
the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies program, the Committee on Inner Asian and Altaic Studies, the Asia Center, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian  Studies, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences


Abstract Visions of culture among the Muslims of Russia, Central Asia, and Western China in the late 19th- and early 20th-century have long been dominated by the broadly-defined cohort known as the "Jadids," and by similarly broad notions of the Islamic "modernism" of which this group was allegedly both a vanguard and a vessel. In recent years, however, a number of researchers have gone beyond the familiar narrative which pits "modernist Jadids" against "traditionalists" to reveal a more intricate arrangement of allegiances and motivations. Thus, some scholars have arrived at a novel set of conclusions which will form the critical template of this conference: 1) what has been called "Jadidism" was not a coherent political or cultural "movement," but rather a set of cultural practices which were enmeshed in a derivative discourse of Islamic reformism reflecting broad and long-term shifts in communal organizations and doctrinal practices; 2) Central Asian religious authorities and intellectuals frequently shifted from seemingly "modernist" to seemingly "traditionalist" intellectual postures according to different discursive contexts with a view to achieving specific purposes; 3) both the motivations and the achievements of "reform" discourses have very often been misapprehended or misconstrued by scholars; and, finally, 4) the heuristic value of such terms as "Islamic modernism," "traditionalism" and "Jadidism" must ultimately be called into question for the Central Eurasian context. Taking these four theses as a shared orientation and a point of departure, this conference aims to bring together leading international scholars from a range of disciplines whose work on the social and cultural history of the Muslim communities of Central Asia, Russia and Western China in the modern period has helped to redefine our visions of the regions during an era of profound institutional transitions.



Saturday, April 26th
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. 

Address of Welcome
Paolo Sartori (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Session One: Islam and Society in 20th-Century Central Asia

  • Eren Tasar (University of North Carolina), “The Official Madrasas of Soviet Uzbekistan”
  • Jeff Eden (Harvard University), “A Soviet Jihad against Hitler: Ishan Babakhan Calls Central Asian Muslims to War”
  • Paolo Sartori (Austrian Academy of Sciences), “Reflections on Local Genealogies of Cultural Change: At the Roots of Central Asian Jadidism”

Chair: Terry Martin, Harvard University 

2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Session Two: Modernism and its Undoing in the Volga-Urals Region

  • Alfrid Bustanov (European University, St. Petersburg), “Zainap Maksudova (1897-1980) and the Reassessment of Tatar Literary Tradition”
  • Nathan Spannaus (University of Tennessee), “Understanding Muslim Modernism in Russia: Jadidism in Context”
  • Allen J. Frank (Takoma Park, MD), “Tatar Manuscript Histories and the problem of the Islamic Modernist Narrative in Russia”

Chair: Paolo Sartori (Austrian Academy of Sciences)


Sunday, April 27th
9:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Session Three: Rethinking Islamic Tradition in Western China

  • Rian Thum (Loyola University, New Orleans), “New Understandings of Islam in 1930s Altishahr”
  • David Brophy (University of Sydney), “A Kashgari Jadid? ‘Abd al-Qadir Damolla and His Patrons”
  • Eric Schluessel (Harvard University), “The World As Seen from Yarkand: the Cosmological Anxieties of a 1920s Chronicler”

Chair: Jeff Eden (Harvard University)

2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Keynote Address:  Devin DeWeese (Indiana University), “It was a Dark and Stagnant Night    (‘til the Jadīdists Brought the Light): Clichés, Biases, and False Dichotomies in the Intellectual History of Central Asia”


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conference poster
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