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Dr. Manja Stephan

Dr. Manja Stephan

Dr. Manja Stephan

associated Ph.D. candidate (Scholarship holder 10/2007 - 03/2008)
Dissertation defense: 02.06.2009
Predicate: magna cum laude


Dr. Manja Stephan

Sinziger Str. 2
10138 Berlin

phone: ++49 (0) 176 / 633 371 06

Moralerziehung, Islam und Muslimsein in Tadschikistan zwischen Säkularisierung und religiöser Rückbesinnung

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Chris Hann, Prof. Anke von Kügelgen

Financed by Volkswagen Foundation from 01.09.2002 until 30.11.2005

Within the scope of conflict between traditional, religious and modern values in post-Soviet and post-civil-war  Tajikistan, the moral mobilization of society is a crucial focus. In a setting of social and economic instability  and ideological confusion, a vehement call for the moral education of younger generations is evident in all spheres  of society. Various voices in the public sphere demand a return to the ’Eastern morality’ of the ancestors. This is  intended to bring young people closer to cultural traditions of the ancient past and the moral principles of Islam,  and to help overcome the ongoing Soviet legacy of ’foreign’ or ’Russian values’. At the same time, new interpretations  of Islam are introduced from outside and compete with both local Islamic tradition and the secular state for a  leading position in public discussions about morality.

Within this context the project investigates moral education (tarbiya) in Sunni-Muslim urban communities in Dushanbe.  The vernacular term tarbiya designates social and moral practices that include different forms of learning and  identification through the participation of young people in different cultural manifestations, as well as local  ideas and concepts considering what it means to be a ’good person’. In a wider sense, these practices and ideas  reproduce odob - the corpus of social norms, moral values and ethical principles. Practicing odob is an important  marker of gender-specific roles, as it is a source of local, national and religious identity.

The transmission and reproduction of social norms and moral values is closely linked with the life cycle of young  people. Special focus in the project can be seen on the verge of coming of age (baloghat) which strongly determines  the social and religious life of youth in Tajikistan.
Ethnographic fieldwork was carried out in families, state schools as well as religious courses (sabaq) at home or  in local mosques. These social domains are not only important institutions for socializing at the verge of coming  of age. They also provide "moral spaces" in which traditional, religious, modern and other values meet, come into  conflict and are renegotiated and synthesized in everyday social practices of the local Muslim population.

Particular attention in the project is also paid to the question how moral education in Tajikistan is related to  Islam and different local concepts of Muslim identity and religiousness. The educational practices in families as  well as the practice of religious schooling show, that processes of learning and practicing to be a morally good  person are closely interlinked with the transmission of religious knowledge and religious practices in everyday  Muslim life.
Moral education in state schools takes place systematically through separate ethics classes (odobnoma) that transmit  moral norms and values in the frame of civic education. These courses aim at shaping young people into ’good Tajik  citizens’ and ’good parents in future’ and confront them with a secular interpretation of odob. The juxtaposition  of moral education in the religious and secular sphere leads to the question of what the secular concept of morality  in school consists of and how it is related to the Muslim realities of Tajik society.


2003-Ph.D.-Candidate, associated with the "Civil Religion" Research Group at the Max-Planck-Institute of Social Anthropology, Halle (Saale)
2002-2005Scholarship of the Volkswagen Foundation and membership in the international research project "Islamic Education in the Soviet Union and its Successor States" at the Seminar of Oriental and Islamic Studies at the Ruhr-University of Bochum

Magistra Artium in Central Asian Studies/Humboldt University Berlin, MA thesis "Oshibibiyon and mushkulkusho: Legends of saints and religious rituals of women in Bukhara/Uzbekistan"

1997-2002Studies in Central Asian Studies at the Humboldt-University of Berlin und Ethnology at the Free Universität of Berlin
1994-1997Studies in Ethnology, Central Asian Studies und Slavonic Studies at the University of Leipzig

Ethnographic Research Projects

2002-2004Tajikistan (Duschanbe):
Fieldwork about moral education, Islam and religious knowledge in contemporary Tajikistan, Ph.D. project
2000Uzbekistan (Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara):
Fieldwork about National Minorities in Uzbekistan, Study project of the Seminar of Central Asian Studies/Humboldt University of Berlin
2000Uzbekistan (Bukhara):
Fieldwork about veneration of saints and religious rituals of women in contemporary Bukhara, MA project
1997Uzbekistan (Namangan):
Fieldwork about cult of saints and veneration of shrines in the Ferghana valley, Study project of the Institute of Ethnology/Free University of Berlin
1996Uzbekistan (Chorezm):
Language trip and fieldwork studies about local religious practices


  • (2006),"’You come to us like a black cloud’: Universal versus local Islam in Tajikistan", in: Chris Hann & the "Civil Religion" Group (ed.), The Post socialist Religious Question: Faith and Power in Central Asia and East - Central Europe. Münster.
  • "Schulischer Ethikunterricht in Tadschikistan: Wertevermittlung und Moralerziehung zwischen staatlichen Interessen und gesellschaftlichen Realitäten", in: Raoul Motika, Michael Kemper, Anke von Kügelgen (Hrsg.). Islamische Bildung in der Sowjetunion und ihren Nachfolgestaaten. Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, Wiesbaden (erscheint 2007).