Introduction: Studying Islam from below and interrogating divisions in contemporary Russia
The four contributions to this special section aim to study Islam in Russia from below, by examining how Muslims in Russia live and experience their vision of the Islamic religion in conformity and/or dissonance with official categories of Islam, or by simply moving beyond them. The contributions in this collection start from the idea that the study of Islam in Russia is inevitably confronted with normative discourses about acceptable and undesirable forms of Islam. These normative discourses are represented in the categories of “traditional” and “non-traditional Islam” that contributors to the section examine and interrogate through the perceptions and experiences of their Muslim informants. A number of questions arise when we examine the relationship between lived, grassroots Muslim experiences – Islam perceived from below – and top-down normative discourses. First, we can ask whether official categories reflect emic self-definitions, ways in which Muslims in Russia define themselves, taking into account that these emic terms are in flux. We can also ask about the nature of grassroots Muslim experiences: do they inevitably emerge outside of official Muslim institutions, or do we find a variety of grassroots Muslims, not all clearly identifiable on a religious level? Second, we can consider what increased religiosity, taking different forms, might mean for the perception of official dichotomies, along with the role of the Muftiates at the intersection between state discourses and grassroots Muslims. Does increased religiosity dissolve, alter or consolidate divisions drawn on an official level? The ethnographies in this section reveal that the exploration of Islam tends to produce unique trajectories among Muslims in Russia that cannot always be clearly located on a theological spectrum. The religious trajectories carved out by Muslims in Russia are constantly evolving and responding to a changing socio-political environment.