On the practices of seeing health and illness in Central Asia: collective identities, legitimacies and purification in the case of Turkistani Khojas

The aim of my dissertation project is to examine, how the people of Khoja construct, reconstruct and communicate different dimensions of collective identities (Donahoe et al. 2009) in the context of “traditional” or local healing in Turkistan, South of Kazakhstan. The term Khoja refers to those people, who trace their origins back to the Arab roots. It is believed that belonging to the first Arabs, who brought Islam to Central Asia, gives these people a special closeness regarding the sacred knowledge of Islam and its practices of healing sicknesses and other sufferings. Making a clear distinction between “them”, the “pure” Muslim healers, from “other” Muslim healers, this special religious status, regarding the access to sacred knowledge of Islam, legitimizes its practitioners on the one hand and guaranties them by this means a certain privileged position in the today’s market of “traditional” healing on the other hand.
Thus, my dissertation project is an attempt to understand contemporary processes, in which the Khoja healers, confronted with different ideas about health and illness resulting from different kinds of logics, such as biomedical, religious but also logic coming from the “global knowledge” of the development on the one hand, and with the atheistic past, on the other hand, which to a large extent shaped their biographies as well as their visions on human body, health and cure, position themselves in collective terms and develop gradually their identities. Showing intriguing links between the empirical case, i.e., Turkistani Khojas and some of the main questions of different sub-fields of anthropology as well as sociology, I demonstrate that especially in the post soviet context of Central Asia the phenomenon of healing becomes especially interesting to investigate on.

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