Localizing The Trans/Nationally Modern Imaginary: Islamic “Authenticity” On China’S Peripheries

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Due to increasing liberalization following China's economic reforms, record numbers of Chinese Muslims have gone abroad to other parts of the Muslim world for study, religious pilgrimage (hajj) or work. Such direct interaction with the rest of the Muslim world has shaped how HuiMuslims in China understand, imagine, and articulate their Islamic identity through nationalism, modernity, and Chinese state sovereignty. This dissertation asks how what I term the "transnationally modern" - that is, the imagined and experienced connections between China and the rest of the world that have emerged since China's "opening up" in 1978 - is complicit in producing particular forms of Hui-Muslim religious "authenticity" in China. How, after decades of isolation, do Muslims in China legitimate their versions of Islam? I delve into this question by comparing two groups of Hui-Muslims in Yunnan Province: the urban, secular elite in the provincial capital Kunming, and the rural, religious elite in the Muslim enclave of Shadian. I examine how Muslims in each of these communities reconstructed their religious "authenticity" after the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. In particular, I show how their proximity to urban centers of power and their embeddedness in dominant capitalist modes of production shaped the kinds of ethno-religious authenticity they produced. Drawing on two years of ethnographic field iv work and textual research in Yunnan, this study reveals the ways in which imagined connections with transnational Islam are localized within communal, regional, and national spaces. By attending to the ways in which Islam is uniquely localized in Yunnan, this research destabilizes both "Islam" and "China" as totalizing, monolithic forces that, whether through orthodox religious authority or through governmental disciplinary techniques, impose identities and practices on the peoples who participate in those worlds. Ultimately, I seek to illustrate the creative agency of socio-cultural actors. Additionally, this project broadens the debates on Islam, shifting academic literature on Islamic identity from an Arabocentric focus to a global one. By doing so, I re-situate Chinese Muslims within the broader global context, and show how they are connected to the rest of the Muslim world. This research further contributes to current debates about the consolidation of power at the margins of the Chinese state, the perceived threat of Muslim transnationalism, and the relation of historical narratives to concrete practices. v

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China; Islam; Authenticity


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Union Local


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Sangren, Paul Steven

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Munasinghe, Viranjini P
Fiskesjo, N Magnus G

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Ph. D., Anthropology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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