Religion and Secularism can co-exist in Kazakhstan

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Nur-Astana Mosque

Kazakhstan can offer the world a completely different model of state secularism and may serve as an example for other Muslim-majority states, according to a recent study published by the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy (ISDP).

After the fall of the Soviet Union, independent Kazakhstan, like other Central Asian countries, adopted a secular form of government. It then faced the challenge of implementing a state approach to religion.

The term “secularism” includes a broad spectrum of views and concepts. Researchers, including ISDP Director Svante Cornell, Head of Advisory Council Stephen Frederick Starr, and Junior Research Fellow and Research Coordinator Julian Tucker, outlined five different types of secular models of interaction between the state and religion. “Fusion” occurs when political and spiritual realms merge. Religious minorities are tolerated in the “Dominant Religion” model, but the state supports one particular religion. In the middle of the spectrum is the “State Neutrality” model accepted in the United States. The “Skeptical/Insulating” model adopted by France aims to regulate and control religious influence and “Hostile” can be attributed to the Soviet practice of prohibiting religious freedom.

The Soviet-era atheism policy had significant implications on Kazakh religious life, and the population’s interest in religion was revived on the eve of independence. Muslim and Christian communities were exposed to the outside flood of religious influence.

Islamic movements from North Caucasus, the Persian Gulf, South-East Asia and Turkey came to Kazakhstan. Christian missionaries from Europe, North America and South Korea joined the flock. While most groups were liberal, some adhered to an extremist agenda and since 2005, extremist violence in Kazakhstan has been on the rise. The report’s authors suggest the problem is connected to influences from the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, North Caucasus and the Syria-Iraq war zone.

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