Otinchalar in the Ferghana Valley: Islam, gender and power

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Robert A. Rubinstein


Ferghana Valley, Islam, Gender, Power, Otinchalar, Uzbekistan

Subject Categories

Religion | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Women's Studies


This dissertation defines and discusses Muslim female practitioners, otinchalar, in the Ferghana Valley (Uzbekistan), who through religious education and practice become the leaders of Muslim women. The dissertation examines the ways in which religious networks of local otinchalar, as emerging leaders have a potential to play important roles in regional social transformation. These female practitioners (1) provide Islamic and ceremonial education for local women, (2) create legitimate alternatives to mosques for female religious observance, (3) exert some social control in their local communities, and (4) transform existing social and religious practices. The basis of the study is the in-depth ethnographic research, which took place in the Ferghana Valley (Uzbekistan) in 2001 through 2003. The methodological framework of this dissertation combines a feminist approach with network analysis, and includes practice theory and an understanding of Islamic history and theology. Ethnographic materials concentrate on individuals and their descriptions of their positions relationally. Some otinchalar's educational practice stimulates students' critical thinking and enables local women to gain agency and voice. By presiding over religious gatherings otinchalar provide women with a legitimate and safe space for religious observances and socializing. The sacred place created at such gatherings facilitates women's participation via theological, familial, communal, and political discussions in the life of the local and global Muslim communities. The networks of otinchalar are an informal mechanism of social control and transformation in the area, which both maintain and challenge existing social structure in their local communities. While they reproduce gendered space and social hierarchy in their practice, they also challenge the social structure by providing local women with models of moral behavior that differ from and challenge the existing ones. Otinchalar's articulated models couched in Islamic discourse create different behavioral responses from local women thus transforming normative practices at the time. Finally, otinchalar introduce the seeds of social transformation on three levels: personal (change in their family members' lives), local (change in their students' lives), and national (change of normative social practices).


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