Global Voices on Pluralism

The role of written monuments on stones in studying the evolution of religious beliefs of the Kyrgyz

Publication Date: April 2018

Negizbek Shabdanaliev

Senior Professor in the Turkology Department of Kyrgyz-Turkish Manas University in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The Kyrgyz and other ethnic groups who lived on the territory of Kyrgyzstan at some point in different periods, used different systems of writing. The monuments, made with the use of such writings, are currently viewed by the scholarly world as one of the main sources of information given their linguistic, folkloric, historical, and other aspects. These monuments also play an important role in studying the evolution of religious beliefs of the Kyrgyz. For example, in different periods, authors of these monuments registered the information on the religious beliefs of the Kyrgyz and other ethnic groups that lived on the territory of modern Kyrgyzstan. That information tells us that Eastern Tengir-Too, Eastern Turkestan were under the influence of such religious beliefs as Buddhism, Christianity, Manichaeism, and Shamanism, whereas Talas and Isfidjab were under the influence of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Manichaeism. Scholars such as V. D. Goryacheva, V. A. Lifshitz, and A. Mokeev wrote about this. This data is confirmed by the texts written on stones, which feature words, expressions, and sentences that reveal religious convictions pertaining to a particular period. These written monuments confirm that the Kyrgyz and other people who lived on these territories observed various religious beliefs, traces of which still live in the memory of the Kyrgyz in the form of words, phrases, idioms, and superstitious beliefs. It means that there was no absolute domination of one religion in the history of Kyrgyz; rather there existed a natural form of superecumenism (religious pluralism).

Today, although a predominant majority of the Kyrgyz are considered to be Muslims, different religious groups carry out their activities among the population. For example, along with representatives of the traditional religions in Kyrgyzstan (Islam – 82.7%; Christianity – 16%), there are people who consider themselves Baha’i, Jew, Buddhist, and others. Obviously, a certain level of superecumenism can be currently observed in Kyrgyzstan.

All this data shows that the different religious beliefs in different periods played a certain role in the life of Kyrgyz and the traces of that religious beliefs can still be found in the historical memory of the people. It means that the Kyrgyz and people who used to live here always recognized religious pluralism and therefore have a potential for tolerance towards other religions now.