The Art of Managing Religion in a Post-Soviet Soft Authoritarian State

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter aims at presenting a religious topography of contemporary Kazakhstan by focusing on the Islamic religious revival following independence and the subsequent attempts made by the state to control it. With a remaining Russian population of approximately 25%, Kazakhstan is considered to be one of the most Russified and secularized countries of Central Asia. Since its independence in 1991, the Kazakhstani authorities have implemented policies aimed at promoting national traditions, and in particular, the Kazakh language. In parallel, we observe a renewed interest for Islam among the population. However, the society remains strongly influenced by seventy years of atheism imposed by force and this interest translates into a moderate increase of religious practice. Despite this moderate Islamization, the authorities fear a politicization and radicalization of Islam and attempt to channel religious feelings towards an Islam that is considered patriotic, in line with national values and shielded from external influences. The state has reinforced its control over religious organizations and practices, through the Spiritual Direction of Muslims in Kazakhstan, an institution inherited from Soviet times which acts as an official clergy. This control is exercised in a context of moderate authoritarianism, which generates tensions in the country. This chapter opens with a historical account of religious dynamics to illustrate how state-religion relations in Kazakhstan possess a unique character due to the legacy of Marxist atheism. The second part paints a portrait of the religious diversity in the country and the tensions inherent to this cohabitation. It will reveal that the most dramatic tensions are not inter-confessional but concern the different interpretations of Islam.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKazakhstan and the Soviet Legacy
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Number of pages179
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-13-6693-2
ISBN (Print)978-981-13-6692-5
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Kazakhstan
  • post-Communism
  • islam
  • Central asia
  • Salafism

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The Art of Managing Religion in a Post-Soviet Soft Authoritarian State'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this