Workshop — Eurasia’s Islamic Socialist Ecumene


Eren Tasar
Assistant Professor, History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mustafa Tuna
Associate Professor, Slavic & Eurasian Studies, Duke University


For much of the twentieth century, Muslim intellectuals in virtually all the countries of Eurasia engaged with socialism as a utopian vision of progress and liberation for Muslim peoples. A vast constellation of figures promoted some form of socialism as a vehicle for national liberation and decolonization, from members of the ‘ulama sympathetic to socialism’s egalitarian tenets; to secular intellectuals educated in Westernized universities; to atheist communists who retained some connection to a sense of Muslimness (often through their ethnic affiliation); to (eventually) authoritarian dictators such as Muammar al-Gaddafi who adopted brands of socialism as their official ideology. These figures have been studied in their national contexts, and the links between socialist movements in Muslim countries and the Soviet Communist Party have similarly been explored in some depth. At no point, however, have Muslim socialists been identified as a transnational network (or collection of networks). This workshop proposes to interrogate Islamic socialists as an intellectual community-albeit a fluid one-spanning the Eurasian continent from Turkey to China and from Russia to India. It also suggests that the religious component of being Muslim and socialist needs to be taken seriously, and that, therefore, relationships, gatherings, and exchanges of ideas between Islamic socialists constitute an InterAsian religious network of varying scope depending on the decade in question.

To account for the tremendous diversity of Muslim figures embracing or experimenting with socialist ideas, and to acknowledge the lack of mobility experienced by Muslim socialists living in authoritarian (and especially communist) countries, this workshop proposes the idea of an Islamic socialist intellectual ecumene, which can be analyzed in terms of three categories: networks of people, the flow of ideas, and the circulation of texts. Unlike a network, the concept of an ecumene allows for the inclusion of both connections and convergences; to analyze not only the relationships between socialists across time periods and different Muslim cultures, but also to compare the engagement with socialism in areas geographically distant from one another.

By soliciting contributions from scholars engaged with historical figures representing a range of Muslim communities across a broad spectrum of the last century, this workshop aims to illustrate the Eurasian dimensions of Muslim intellectual engagement with socialism, and to thereby transcend the limitations imposed by nationalist and Moscow-centric historiographical approaches. The workshop organizers are open to a wide variety of submissions, including those related to the following topics:

  • Transnational socialist conferences, such as the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East (1920)
  • Socialist movements formed in opposition to established Communist Parties in Muslim countries, such as the Socialist Society of the Iranian Masses (1948)
  • Socialist interpretations of fiqh
  • The role of socialism in anticolonial nationalist movements
  • The relationship between communist movements and the ‘ulama, especially in the early, formative decades of communism (the 1920s in the USSR and the 1950s in China)
  • Autobiographies of prominent socialist intellectuals in Muslim countries
  • Periodical literature targeting the reading public in Muslim countries