Date of Award

Fall 2023

Degree Type



Languages, Literatures and Cultures

Director of Thesis

Dr. Judith Kalb

Second Reader

Dr. Noah Gardiner


This thesis explores the Soviet Union’s approach to Islam in the Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan and the effects that these policies have had on believers following the collapse of the Soviet Union. As the first nation to adopt atheism as official policy, the Soviet Party-state employed many tactics to suppress Islam in the region through violence, propaganda, and strict control. Relying on existing literature written on the topic, I begin by offering a historical analysis of the attacks on Islam in the 1920s and 1930s. In an attempt to expand the scope of English-language material on the subject, I employ archival research done in the Central State Archives of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to examine the attempt to institutionalize and govern the religion in the 1940s and 1950s. Further archival and textual analysis is used to analyze the use of “official” bureaucratized Islam in Soviet foreign policy in the 1960s and 1970s. The thesis concludes by discussing the liberalization of religion in the 1980s and the implications for the independent states following the Soviet Union’s collapse through ethnographic research conducted via interviews in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Due to the relatively understudied nature of Islam in Soviet and post-Soviet Central Asia, this thesis serves to expand the availability of primary source literature and general awareness to the religious realities of the region by discussing the complications of reckoning with the history of the Soviet Union’s atheist regime and the perseverance of the faith after independence.

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© 2023, Joshua Hughes

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