Discovering a sense of well-being through the revival of Islam: profiles of Kazakh imams in Western Mongolia Academic Article uri icon


  • Throughout Central Asia, the end of communism has been marked by a significant change in the management and influence of local mosques. In many rural areas, small underground mosques operated by informally trained, elderly moldas have been supplanted by newly constructed mosques led by younger, foreign-educated local imams and financed by governmental and private donations from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. From several perspectives, this revival of Islam is characterized in a way that implies that increased religiosity and piety is somewhat problematic. In this essay, based on six months of ethnographic fieldwork in Western Mongolia, we argue that such an approach prevents an understanding of how religious changes are enhancing the social and material well-being of certain actors. We explore the utility of the concept of well-being by focusing on the everyday lives of Kazakh imams in Western Mongolia. Approximately 100,000 ethnic Kazakhs live in the Western Mongolian province of Bayan-lgii, where they comprise about 80% of the population. Although a significant portion of the population has been migrating to Kazakhstan in the post-socialist period, the Kazakhs who choose to remain in Mongolia have experienced a significant increase in religious freedom. In this context, the new cohort of imams is playing an important mediating role as members of the local population reinterpret and renegotiate their identity as Muslims. In addition to finding spiritual well-being through their knowledge of Islam, these imams are acquiring social status and economic security from their local roles as religious leaders and through their transnational connections with a broader Muslim community. 2013 2013 Southseries Inc.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Werner, C., Barcus, H., & Brede, N.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Werner, Cynthia||Barcus, Holly||Brede, Namara

publication date

  • January 2013