Changing Ideological Landscapes in Urban Kyrgyzstan
How do specific secular and religious ideologies—such as nationalism, neoliberalism, atheism, Pentecostalism, Tablighi Islam, and shamanism—gain popularity and when do they lose traction? To answer these questions, Mathijs Pelkmans critically examines the trajectories of a range of ideologies as they move into the post-Soviet frontier in Central Asia. Ethnographically rooted in the everyday life of a former mining town in southern Kyrgyzstan, Fragile Conviction shows how residents have dealt with the existential and epistemic crises that arose after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Residents became enchanted by the truths of Muslim and Christian missionaries, embraced the teachings of neoliberal and nationalist ideologues, and were riveted by the visions of shamanic healers. But no matter how much enthusiasm and hope these ideas first engendered, the commitment to any of them rarely lasted very long.
Pelkmans finds that there is an inverse relationship between the tenacity and the effervescence of collective ideas, between their strength to persist and their ability to trigger committed action. Introducing the concept of pulsation, he argues in Fragile Conviction that ideational power must be understood in relation to three aspects: the voicing of the idea, its tension with everyday reality, and its reverberation within groups of listeners. The conclusion that the power of conviction is rooted in the instability of sociocultural contexts is a message that has relevance far beyond urban Central Asia.