The Uyghur and the Scholar: Competing Narratives of Ethno-religious Identity

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Conway, John
Xinjiang , Uyghur , religion , religious nationalism , semiotics , myth , narrative , historiography , religion , Islam , Muslim , China , religious minorities
This paper engages the nationalist and ethno-religious discourses among and pertaining to the Uyghur of China’s Xinjiang province. The purpose of such engagement is to illustrate that the scholarly discourse that has alternately deconstructed or validated the narratives of history that contributed to the ethnogenesis of the Uyghur is complicit in this wider discourse. The widely held assertion that the notion of the ethno-religious identity ‘Uyghur’ is both a construction of the twentieth century, and largely artificial or misleading, challenges the pre-existing discourse among the Uyghur themselves and the governing bodies of the People’s Republic of China. A close examination of the scholarly narrative in consideration of theories of ethnicity and semiotic discourse therefore illustrates that this narrative competes among other claims to the ‘natural’ identity of the Turkic oasis dwellers of Xinjiang. My aim is to illustrate, in view of the case of the Uyghur, that it would be naïve to consider the work of scholars on ethnicity and religion to be mimetic reflections of reality. Indeed I contend that scholars possess the same propensity for myth-making as any given object of their study.
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