Secularism and Belief in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge

Journal of Islamic Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 339-373, 2011

35 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2011 Last revised: 23 Sep 2012

Rebecca Ruth Gould

University of Bristol

Date Written: September 14, 2011


The Pankisi Gorge is often associated in the public imagination with terror. This essay contests such stereotypes through ethnographies far removed from media headlines. Rejecting facile reductions of Pankisi to a site for breeding terror, it situates Chechen (Kist) belief systems within the framework of a post-secular anthropology of Islam. The Kists, Chechen inhabitants of Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, engage daily with variegated forms of Islam, Christianity, state-sponsored secularism, and local paganisms. Ethnographies of Islamic minarets and Christian headstones are studied here alongside post-Soviet forms of secular nationalism. The syncretic belief systems being generated in Pankisi today are heavily shaped by the local realities of a region where Christianity and Islam have flourished alongside local paganisms for centuries. Through its ethnographies of everyday life at the borders of multiple religions, and by drawing on the work of Talal Asad and other anthropologists of Islam, this essay aims to overcome the constraints imposed by secular forms of knowledge on the study of Islamic societies.

Keywords: Islam, Christianity, Secularity, Secularism, Sufism, Chechnya, Anthropology, Islam, Post-Soviet, Pankisi, Asad

Suggested Citation

Gould, Rebecca Ruth, Secularism and Belief in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge (September 14, 2011). Journal of Islamic Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 339-373, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Rebecca Ruth Gould (Contact Author)

University of Bristol ( email )

United Kingdom


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