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Muslim Tatar Women's Piety Stories: A Quest for Personal and Social Transformation In Tatarstan (Russia)

This dissertation introduces and analyzes "piety stories," the stories that Muslim Tatar women in Tatarstan, Russia, share about their paths to becoming observant Muslims. It examines the ways women use these stories to create and represent moral worlds that diverge from those of the mostly secular, historically Christian, society that surrounds them. This study is based on ethnographic research and recordings of stories in Tatarstan's capital city of Kazan and its suburbs over a total period of thirteen months (from 2006 through 2010). While outsiders often see Islam as oppressing women, these women experience Muslim piety as a source of agency and a resource for personal and social transformation in post-Soviet Russia. Piety stories allow Muslim Tatar women to (re)experience their commitment to Islam at the discursive level and to invite others to step onto a path to Muslim piety, thus serving as a form of da'wah, a Muslim's moral duty to invite others to Islam. Through these stories, women perform identities, negotiate group memberships, and contribute to building both local and global Muslim communities. Piety stories serve as a window onto the personal politics of the post-Soviet Muslim revival. Older women, for example, use stories to create coherent narratives of their piety, despite their relative lack of religious practice during the state-endorsed atheism of the Soviet period. Expressions of gender are also intertwined with this political and economic history. Both Soviet policies and the immediate post-Soviet economic collapse required women to work outside the home in addition to caring for their families, and many Muslim Tatar women find the clear delineation of traditional gender roles and rights in Islam liberating. In global and local contexts where Muslim piety is often conflated with political Islam and terrorism, women use piety stories to deal with stereotypical perceptions of Muslims by showing their religious identities and the forms of Islam they practice to be moral. Ultimately, practicing Muslim Tatar women use piety stories as one way--a discursive one--to challenge, re-produce, or legitimize their understanding of Islam and what it means to be a practicing Muslim Tatar woman in Russia today.
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