Families and Traditions in Transition

First Central Asian Program on Pedagogies of Solidarity | Kyrgyzstan | August 8-21, 2022

In 2017—the centenary of the Russian Revolution—many throughout the former Soviet Union were given pause for thought: What was gained and what was lost over the past century? What was irrevocably destroyed and what merely changed? What pieces needed to be picked up—and by whom—and what, despite all upheavals, remained the same?

In Kyrgyzstan, and Central Asia more generally, the pieces of the puzzle included the role of traditional leadership in society, the legacy of colonial rule, the heritage of socialism, and the challenges of being a nation-state in the 21st century. All of these issues touched on and profoundly restructured the two central units of social life: family and tradition. Until the socialist experiment in the early decades of the 20th century, family and tradition were the mainstays of social life. Their role today, however, following the end of communism, is deeply contested.

Soviet rule in Kyrgyzstan came with a modernizing agenda aimed at reforming gender norms, education, religion, and labor. People’s relationship with the past was altered, with, among other things, women entering the workforce in previously unimagined roles; literacy spreading in schools teaching a common curriculum; and religion coming to be relegated to private and individual space. When the country gained independence in 1991, new opportunities emerged in the form of international development. This, however, also brought a slew of international organizations seeking to facilitate the transformation of the country in their own image. As well, a new openness to public religiosity—especially Islam—emerged from a reengagement with traditions and the relearning of narratives disseminated by missionaries through studies at home and abroad. The State too reached into religious narratives for purposes of its own legitimation and diverse social actors emerged within the country trying to reclaim a forgotten past (religious, and otherwise). At the same time, a fluid labor market dependent more than ever on remittances from abroad contributed to complex processes of social, ideological, and religious reconfiguration.

Now, almost three decades since gaining independence, Kyrgyzstan continues to evolve as a country whose relation to its own past is unevenly shared across social groups who nevertheless use the past (or rather pasts) as a yardstick of social belonging. Many issues are contested in this struggle to control the past. These include, for example, the meanings and valences of public and private space; the nature of public and social morality; and the role of religion in public life.

In the 2022 CAPPS school, we shall explore this contestation through the lens of our own pedagogy. Thus, we will analyze how sexuality and gender equality have been impacted by conversations around traditional morals and emancipation. We will query how labor flows have influenced families and the imagination of home. And we will ask when and how social vulnerabilities emerge and marginalization shifts with public agendas. Drawing upon a diverse group of participants from Central Asia and beyond, we will focus on how families and traditions become central points of debate in the transition of states and the emergence of social norms.

CEDAR programs do not stress any idea of “common ground” or shared values among participants. Rather, they are predicated on the existence of substantive differences—in values, histories, life circumstances, beliefs, worldviews, and economic statuses—between individuals and communities; differences that naturally resist elision. The school seeks to build a space in which a sense of shared belonging becomes possible despite those deep differences in lived experience. Its focus is on belonging rather than rights. CEDAR programs combine pluralistic perspectives on religious thought with social scientific research on tolerance and civil society, and an open, dialogic, approach to pedagogic practice. Its goal is to transform both the theoretical models and concrete practices through which religious orientations and secular models of politics and society engage one another. Its programs combine academic courses with intensive group-building processes and the construction of working relationships across religious and ethnic identities. Its didactic goals are both social and cognitive.

Questions should be sent to CAPPS@CEDARnetwork.org.

CAPPS is a CEDAR affiliate program.