This research axis studies the deployment of a ‘bourgeois Islam’ among urban middle classes of countries with a rent economy in Central Eurasia, with Kazakhstan being the flagship one. The autonomous republic of Tatarstan, in Russia, and Azerbaijan, in the Caucasus region, are two other examples. This phenomenon has been widely described in other Muslim societies, for instance Turkey, Iran and Dubai by scholars such as Vali Nasr, or in Egypt by Patrick Haenni, who looked at the moralist preacher ‘Amr Khalid. In Indonesia, Gwenaël Feillard has studied the formation of an “Islamic work ethics,” and more broadly an economic ethos whose advocates are no longer merely intellectuals or ideologues, but veritable capitalists, at once preachers and entrepreneurs, to cite only a few studies. It has been explored for the rural bourgeoisie emerging in Soviet Muslim Eurasia by Stéphane A. Dudoignon & Christian Noack’s project Allah’s kolkhozes (2014).
After nearly two decades of market economy in the former Soviet Union, we are witnessing the rise to power of a transnational Islam adapted to the rationale of the capitalist market economy. With globalization, Islam tends to open itself to all the key themes of the world market and become the vehicle of demands for individual autonomy and of, as stated by Patrick Haenni, a “new integration in the world that is somewhat inspired by American televangelists.”
Through this research axis, we explore the Weltanschauung of these new urban middle classes. We focus especially on the notion of Islamic Prosperity Theology, on the forms of Muslim piety performed, on the networks of sociability and on the virtues of practical ethics conveyed in order to legitimate the accumulation of capital. For these new entrepreneurs, economic success is indeed a divine payment. In this logics, personal enrichment, as divine retribution for exemplary conduct based on the principles of Islam, is perceived as positive if money is ‘properly acquired’ and if it is purified by tax (zakat). This production of an Islamic Calvinist ethic combines strict piety with intense entrepreneurship. With the notion of salvation through work, these new middle-classes re-invent for the occasion a certain form of protestant ethics, for which the wealthy were also ‘God’s favorites’. This understanding of Islam manages to combine the economy and religion, heavenly salvation and the here and now: for the believer, to whom prosperity is promised, the recompense is immediate and visible.
For this “pious bourgeoisie” as defined by Gilles Keppel, displaying piety is the path to middle class status. In this perspective, the inculcation of Islamic values and ethics is seen as a part of this process of embourgeoisment, that is, of developing bourgeois respectability and social and cultural capital. The cultivation of Islamic discipline is similarly connected with that of civic virtue and urbanity. Investigating this ‘bourgeois’ Islam and its ‘urban middle class capitalist ethic’ will shed light on current deep social and cultural evolutions shaping the future of the region.