Seminar – 7 May – Ildikó Bellér-Hann

April 25th, 2019 by

ALL WELCOME

Tuesday 7 May 2019

4.30–6.00 Mond Building Seminar Room

Ildikó Bellér-Hann

University of Copenhagen

Uyghur Muslim Identity: Local historical narratives from Eastern Xinjiang

Studying Muslims in socialist Xinjiang is difficult due to the government’s increasingly repressive policies. Scholars have investigated Islam among the Uyghur with reference to reformism, symbolic resistance and contemporary adaptations to state policies. This paper shows that the emergence of local history on the margins of state-dominated historiography can also offer valuable insights into the shaping of contemporary Muslim identities. 

The narratives in question are situated at the juncture where the past is actualized in the present. They are connected to the pre-socialist era in important ways, but their construction is constrained by the Chinese nationalist narrative, by censorship and self-censorship. Incorporating both legends and historically verifiable events, these writings aspire to a comprehensive history of the oasis if Qumul (Hami) and its Muslim population. Yet in spite of their connection to actual historical situations and factual events, the narratives remain stories or tales first and foremost. They can be and typically are read as compact, metaphorical commentaries on the political realities of Chinese socialism that constitute the narrators’ own context. The texts avoid either outright opposition or complete subordination to state-sponsored historiography, largely by making creative use of the latter’s inherent ambiguities. They present Islam as an inalienable component of local identity without portraying religion as a card that trumps all others. The narratives in question enrich our understanding of local perspectives and demonstrate that under conditions of severe repression local history can serve as a site for the cautious expression of ethnic and religious identities.


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