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When the militantly atheist, socialist Russian revolution reached the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia, it encountered a profoundly alien society: deeply religious, rigidly stratified, and inflected by dynamics and tensions most Bolsheviks understood nothing of. Many of the first local recruits to the Bolshevik party came not from any putative native proletariat, but from the families of Islamic notables, or asilzodagon, that for centuries had formed the social and political elite across much of Central Asia. Many Islamic notables became Communists and served the state loyally for decades, while others rejected the new system and persisted – as far as possible – in their traditional occupations as religious leaders and scholars, guardians of shrines and mosque complexes. From both these camps, many died in the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. I argue, however, that those purges – profoundly traumatic though they were – did not mark an end to the prestige of Islamic notables: in the post-Stalin period they underwent a remarkable resurgence. My dissertation explores the ways in which the prestige, status and identity of local families of Islamic notables interacted with the project of Socialist construction, charting many ways in which asilzodagon identity was both shaped by and contributed to the norms and codes of Tajik soviet society and culture. One of the central questions with which my dissertation wrestles is the effects of social and cultural capital, both on school performance, and on subsequent career trajectories, under conditions of socialism.


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