Reviews

The author discusses Gellner’s sociological thesis on Islam and modernity: roughly, Muslim societies follow the path of modernisation by subsuming Islam into nationalism.  Analysing the case of the saintly lineages in Central Asia (as is known, Gellner worked on Muslim holy families in Morocco in the 1960s), S. Abashin argues that, unlike this supposedly global scenario, descendants of saints experience a complex situation.  Whereas ‘village saints’ kept their historical identity within society, ‘urban saints’ reconstructed their status in the frame of nationalism, viz. they fully integrated the values as well as the representations of the national state while preserving an elitist, more than national, consciousness.  Of course, these two categories of saints’ families can overlap.  What should be added here—for showing more polemical than S. Abashin himself—is that Gellner’s theories not only lack historical perspective (the eighteenth century is a key-period in the modern history of many Islamic-background societies due to colonisation), but exclusively consider modernity as starting in the nineteenth century with nationalist ideals.  For historians, this alternative between Islam and nationalism remains highly disputable and slightly simplistic. (English version: “Gellner, the ‘Saints’ and Central Asia: Between Islam and Nationalism,” translated by Caroline Humphrey, Inner Asia 7/1 (2005): 65-86.)

Alexandre Papas, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-1.2.B-54