Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and Literacy by Agnes Nilufer KefeliBecoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and Literacy by Agnes Nilufer Kefeli

Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and Literacy

byAgnes Nilufer Kefeli

Hardcover | October 7, 2014

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In the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire's Middle Volga region (today's Tatarstan) was the site of a prolonged struggle between Russian Orthodoxy and Islam, each of which sought to solidify its influence among the frontier's mix of Turkic, Finno-Ugric, and Slavic peoples. The immediate catalyst of the events that Agnes Nilufer Kefeli chronicles in Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia was the collective turn to Islam by many of the region's Krashens, the Muslim and animist Tatars who converted to Russian Orthodoxy between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.

The traditional view holds that the apostates had really been Muslim all along or that their conversions had been forced by the state or undertaken voluntarily as a matter of convenience. In Kefeli’s view, this argument vastly oversimplifies the complexity of a region where many participated in the religious cultures of both Islam and Orthodox Christianity and where a vibrant Krashen community has survived to the present. By analyzing Russian, Eurasian, and Central Asian ethnographic, administrative, literary, and missionary sources, Kefeli shows how traditional education, with Sufi mystical components, helped to Islamize Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples in the Kama-Volga countryside and set the stage for the development of modernist Islam in Russia.

Of particular interest is Kefeli’s emphasis on the role that Tatar women (both Krashen and Muslim) played as holders and transmitters of Sufi knowledge. Today, she notes, intellectuals and mullahs in Tatarstan seek to revive both Sufi and modernist traditions to counteract new expressions of Islam and promote a purely Tatar Islam aware of its specificity in a post-Christian and secular environment.

Agnes Nilufer Kefeli is Senior Lecturer at Arizona State University.
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Title:Becoming Muslim in Imperial Russia: Conversion, Apostasy, and LiteracyFormat:HardcoverDimensions:9.25 × 6.13 × 0.39 inPublished:October 7, 2014Publisher:CORNELL UNIVERSITY PRESSLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0801452317

ISBN - 13:9780801452314

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Table of Contents

Introduction

1. Apostasy, Conversion, and Literacy at Work

2. Popular Knowledge of Islam on the Volga Frontier

3. Tailors, Sufis, and Abïstays: Agents of Change

4. Christian Martyrdom in Bolghar Land

5. Desacralization of Islamic Knowledge and National Martyrdom

Conclusion and Epilogue

Selected Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

"Agnès Kefeli poses the fascinating question of how communities, of originally animist belief, migrated back and forth between Islam and Orthodox Christianity over several generations, and how the two religions “struggled" over these people, with and without assistance of state authorities. The account is multi-layered, based in deep and knowledgeable reading, but the exposition always lucid. Kefeli does not reduce. The key elements in play are: ethnic or proto-ethnic identity (very local but also a growing regional one), the operations of missionaries, the acts of high state officials (Catherine the Great in particular), and then, in unpredictable but intellectually intriguing development, faith based in knowledge, and knowledge requiring but also advancing literacy. The symbiotic character of that last relation is especially interesting.”—Citation for the 2015 Reginald Zellik Book Prize, ASEEES