Reviews

The author of this short though brisk article sheds light on the purely rhetorical character of the dialectical epithets successively joined by academics to Islam in post-WWII Soviet Union, from narodnyi vs. sufiiskii to umerennyi vs. radikal’nyi or regional’nyi vs. mezhdunarodnyi. She also stresses the extremely fluctuant character of these denominations in the 1990s-2000s, for instance through the figure of Chechen religious and political leader Ahmad Kadyrov, from ‘extremist’ to ‘hero’. A curious guilty party is proposed for all these approximations: the traditional discourse of Western Oriental studies, no effort being made by the author to reconstruct the history of the terms employed by Islamic studies in Russia today, nor their Marxist genealogy. Nothing is said either on the direct and tremendous influence of the categories elaborated by Soviet Oriental studies (and ethnography. . .) from the 1970s onwards on the development of studies on Soviet Islam in the West. In a positivist mood characteristic of . . . the Soviet period, the author wishes for the study of the representations of “concrete Muslims” and Muslim communities of diverse backgrounds. At the same time, her interviews with believers and Sufi practitioners in Ingushetia, enriched by the study of elusively evoked written materials, bring her to useful considerations of the inanity of the over-mentioned categories, notably of the “learned” vs. “popular” dichotomy typical of so many studies on Soviet and post-Soviet Islam. Her considerations on the multiple functions of oral transmission ― so far neglected by history and social sciences ― also usefully contribute to the opening of wider avenues of research.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-1.2.C-52