Faith and state: Governing Religious Plurality in Post-Soviet Azerbaijan

ZOiS Report 3/2020

by Tsypylma Darieva

Located at the cross­roads between Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan is a highly dynamic and a rich laboratory of social and cultural change. Numerous studies have drawn at­tention to a religious resurgence in the country that manifests itself pre­dominantly in a growing number of devoted Muslims. However, while Azerbaijan is usually associated with Islam, it is also a home to a number of other religious groups.

The growing variety of religious groups creates challenges for the Azerbaijani state authorities and for existing patterns of belonging. These have to deal with both discontinuity, as the lines of old traditions and newcomers do not necessarily overlap, and continuity, as there is still some commonality of ethnic and religious attributes.

This report considers three main questions: Firstly, to what extent has the Azerbaijani state’s stance on religion changed over the last two decades? Secondly, what are the main factors shaping this transformation? And thirdly, how is the Azerbaijani state responding to growing religious plurality? Based on preliminary research results, this report identifies the ways in which the authorities attempt to regulate cultural diversity on the national level.

The report draws on an analysis of qualitative interviews with representatives of state organisations, experts, scholars, and religious leaders, conducted by the author and her field assistant during fieldwork in Baku in May 2018 and February – April 2019. First-hand data collection includes an analysis of changing state laws, available state statistical sources, and se­lected media sources in the Azeri, English, and Russian languages.

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