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Visiting fellows discuss Asian cultural identity

Dana Gusky | Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies brought together three visiting fellows, distinguished for their extensive fieldwork, for a panel discussion on Central Asia Tuesday night. The lectures focused on three different local cultures within Asia – including those of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and the area’s female Muslim population – and how that culture survives despite the influence of outside forces.

John Heathershaw, a Kroc Institute Visiting Fellow, spoke first about the “surprisingly” consistent peace found in the country of Tajikistan. Heathershaw, who received his Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, went over the key points of his dissertation “Peace as Complex Legitimacy: Politics, Space and Discourse in Tajikistan’s Peacebuilding Process, 2000-05.”

The lecture concentrated on different forms peacebuilding can take, including global, local and elite outlooks. Specifically, Heathershaw looked at the authoritarian government currently controlling Tajikistan and the lack of resistance found in its general population.

The cause of such acceptance, he said, could be found in the low expectations of the locals, the legitimacy given to this regime and “a spectacle of consent” manifested by the government, he said.

The second speaker was David Montgomery, a Rockefeller Visiting Fellow, whose area of study centered on the way behavior affects religious and cultural views. Montgomery began his lecture by telling the story of two very different believers of Islam in Kyrgyzstan. Montgomery went on to explain how each Muslim’s upbringing and local culture affected the way he or she practiced their religion.

“We construct a net of happenings in order to create knowledge,” Montgomery said.

The final speaker was Svetlana Peshkova, another Rockefeller Visiting Fellow, who spoke about the Otinchalar, or Muslim female religious practitioners.

Peshkova explained how changes in the local culture allowed women to enter a path previously only chosen by men. While information and practices used to be passed down hereditarily, preventing women access, it is now given from teacher to student in spiritual schools. The percentage of women in such schools is still low, she said, but women are slowly entering the field through both the spiritual fields and home schooling.

The discussion panel ended with questions from the audience, mainly focusing on why all three approached their issue from a local viewpoint instead of a more global perspective. Panel members agreed that they wanted to represent the local beliefs, untouched by global attention.