Khodja in Central Asia: construction and transformation of identity

The purpose of my project is to investigate inter-ethnic relationships and identity options among the religious elite groups of Khodja in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan.

In the pre-Soviet period, the religious elite groups (Said, Khodja, Ishon, etc.) formed a particularly privileged group in the social hierarchy of Muslim communities and were much respected by the believers. Some of Khodja groups are held to be the descendants of the first caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar, whereas some other groups claim to be the descendants of Prophet Muhammad.

The emphasis of the study lies on changes in identity and its expressions among different groups of Khodja in the abovementioned countries during the 20th century and the contemporary period. The Soviet policy to homogenise the society in Central Asia and to create national identities could not eliminate the identities of some distinct groups as the Khodja in the region.
One can compare the transformation of identities in sedentary society, including the Khodja, in Uzbekistan for the Soviet and the contemporary period. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, we can study the Khodja identity in a specific society of descendants of nomadic tribes. In Afghanistan, there is a society maintaining more traditional features than those in the post-Soviet Central Asian countries. It will be interesting to compare the role of Khodja groups in Central Asian society with Khodja in other Moslem countries.

The comparative research will be valuable for the understanding of identity construction processes in Central Asia in the current period.

The project will analyse different variables of the respective manifestation of Khodja identity and its variations. The concept of being Khodja provides an excellent case for studying the trans-ethnic character of the group. It enables a systematic comparison of the factors and variables that influence how group identities and social networks are formed and demarcated. It will also enhance existing theoretical models on social groups and their meaning in human life.

I shall try to analyse how decisions between alternative identifications are taken and modelled at the individual and supra-individual levels.

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