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Title: Aspiring Muslims in Russia : form-of-life and political economy of virtue in Povolzhye's 'halal movement'
Author: Benussi, Matteo
ISNI:       0000 0004 7230 1259
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis is concerned with the ways in which Muslims in Russia’s Povolzhye region define, and strive towards, spiritual and material well-being. It explores how pious subjectivities are cultivated in a secular and often politically hostile environment. In addition, it deals with Povolzhye Muslims’s pursuit of worldly success in the context of social change brought about by Russia’s transition to a market economy. Povolzhye is a prosperous, multi-ethnic and multi-confessional historical region, home to Russia’s second largest ethnic group, the Volga Tatars. Although the Tatars have been Sunni Muslims for centuries, the post-Soviet emergence of cosmopolitan, scripturalist piety trends – which I collectively refer to as Povolzhye’s ‘halal movement’ – has raised unprecedented concerns and disputes about the meaning of Muslimness and the place of Muslims in Russian society. Scripturalist virtue-ethics projects have been underrepresented within the expanding body of anthropological literature concerning Islam in the former USSR, and particularly in the Russian Federation. With its explicit ethnographic focus on Povolzhye’s halal movement, this work aims at filling this gap. The halal movement is characterised by its hypermodern transnational imagery as well as significant discursive overlapping with the realms of business and economy. The pursuit of a virtuous existence is particularly appealing to those ascending sectors of society that most successfully engage with Russia’s post-socialist free-market environment, while the idiom of piety both communicates and dissimulates novel forms of stratification and exclusion. This project brings together anthropological theories of ethical self-cultivation with approaches that focus on power, social change, and political economy. In order to explore the political life of the halal movement vis-à-vis both state institutions and the market, I employ Giorgio Agamben’s notions of ‘form-of-life’ and ‘rule/law’, which shed light on the relationship between power and virtue in original ways. In addition, particular attention is given to the social distribution of virtue and the role it plays in reproducing distinction, status, and a ‘capitalist spirit’.
Supervisor: Humphrey, Caroline Sponsor: CHESS ; William Wyse Fund ; Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies ; Ling Roth Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Islam in Russia ; halal ; Islamic reform ; Islam and post-socialism ; Form of life ; Ethics ; Agamben ; Post-Soviet social change ; Russia's politcal economy ; Povolzhye ; Idel-Ural ; middle class ; civil society in Russia