Placing Faith in Tatarstan, Russia: Islam and the Negotiation of Homeland
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The Republic of Tatarstan, a Muslim-majority region of the Russian Federation, is home to a post-Soviet Islamic revival now entering its third decade. Throughout the 1990s, the Tatars of Tatarstan were recognized as practicing a liberal form of Islam, reported more as an attribute of ethno-national culture than as a code of religious conduct. In recent years, however, the republic's reputation as a bastion of religious liberalism has been challenged, first, by a counter-revival of conservative Islamic traditions considered indigenous to the region and, second, by increasing evidence that Islamic fundamentalism, generally attributed in Russia to Wahhabism or Salafism, has taken hold and is growing in influence among the region's Muslims. This dissertation explores how changing political-territorial circumstances are implicated in this transformation. Drawing on extensive fieldwork in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, and a variety of qualitative research methods, including textual analysis, semi-structured interviews, and ethnographic study, the dissertation demonstrates that the transformation in Islamic identity relates to changing understandings of this region as a political space. An examination of practices and representations of the Muslim Spiritual Board of Tatarstan and conflicting perspectives on landscape elements in the Kazan Kremlin shows that the meaning of Islam is being driven by political-geographic change. Analysis of these matters reveals that, as part of Tatarstan's quest for wide-ranging territorial autonomy in the 1990s, government-supported institutions cultivated a preferred understanding of Islam that corresponded to visions of the region as the Tatars' sovereign historic homeland. Over the past decade, amid a rapid recentralization of the federation, support has shifted to Islamic practices deemed "traditional to Russia" as part of a broader multinational Russian identity crafted to fit visions of the country as a powerful, unified state. Thus, the meaning of Islam in this particular place is mediated by competing visions of Tatarstan as a homeland.