"Madrasa Reform as a Secularizing Process: A View from the Russian Empire," in Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2011 53(3): 540-570.
© Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2011

What is Islamic about reform among Muslims and what is not? How can we differentiate reform within an Islamic paradigm and a paradigmatic shift from the Islamic tradition to something else in a Muslim community? How do we establish the connection between reform as an intellectual or scholarly project and the translation of that project into social reality (or, in some cases, the absence of such a translation)? This article addresses these questions in the context of the Volga-Ural region in the late Russian Empire, where reformist Muslims attempted to reform existing Islamic educational institutions, particularly the religious seminaries called “madrasas,” as a means to modernize the region's Muslim communities. Educational reform initiatives among Volga-Ural Muslims originated within the framework of Muslim networks and institutions. Yet, especially after Russia's Revolution of 1905, reform in a number of prominent madrasas came to be characterized by various non-religious and at times even anti-religious influences emerging from the globalization of Western European modernity. Consequently, in these madrasas, education and the overall student experience turned into a secularizing process, and Islam as a religious system lost its weight and appeal for many students, who then engaged in a reform movement that evolved beyond an Islamic paradigm.