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Kazakh people and their ancestors

An EU team examined the Kazakhstan people’s connection to ancient traditions of ancestor reverence. Such traditions put the people in conflict with the modern state, while also giving the people comfort and a political voice.
Kazakh people and their ancestors
Central Asia is typically seen as a region of failed post-Soviet states where corruption and Islamic extremism thrive. For these reasons, some see ethnographic study of the area as urgent, to uncover the region’s ‘real’ cultural workings.

The EU-funded DIALOGAUTHORKZSTAN (The dialogic emergence of authority: Ancestors’ shrines as healing sites in Kazakhstan) project examined how oral expressive culture allows new political and ancestral authorities to emerge. Such authorities challenge authoritarian rule and promote an understanding of power separate from nation states. Ancestral authority is desirable for many central Asians seeking social welfare and spiritual care. The project investigated ways Kazakh ancestors guide and care for the living.

One EU researcher conducted field research in Kazakhstan, living with Kazakh families and also working with informants and research assistants. Such work examined the various contexts in which ancestors become ‘dialogically present’, including home blessings, pilgrimages and miracle stories of caretakers at shrine sites. A manuscript was produced that explains how such forms of ancestral dialogue represent a worldview alternative to that of present-day central Asian nation states.

During the project’s final phase, researchers investigated the broader role of ancestors and sacred geography concerning land and sovereignty in Kazakhstan. The team noted the conflict between traditional nature-based spirituality and a degraded, post-Soviet landscape. The study argued that such conflicts overlap with notions of cultural sovereignty, thereby becoming a vehicle for political dialogue.

Researchers established a research affiliation at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan. The collaboration included creation of a student research team interested in environmental research. The work also underlined the role of dialogue in creating knowledge.

The research highlighted a cultural angle to Kazakh environmental and political awareness.

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Kazakhstan, ancestor, DIALOGAUTHORKZSTAN, dialogic emergence, ancestral authorities
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