Review of Elena Campbell's "The Muslim Question and Russian Imperial Governance"

Friday, October 4, 2019

Below you'll find another book I've reviewed in recent years. Elena Campbell's Muslim Question was one of a series of books that came out about Muslims in Russia in 2014. 

This was originally printed in the Russian ReviewVol. 75/1, January, 2016, 155-6

Elena I. Campbell’s The Muslim Question and Russian Imperial Governance is the latest of several books to be published over the past fifteen years that deal with the issue of Muslim administration in imperial Russia from the perspective of tsarist authorities.  Campbell draws upon several of these studies to provide a thorough and well-organized discussion of Muslim-state interactions across the Russian Empire, focusing particularly upon the final decades of the imperial era.  The book draws upon an impressive array of state archival material, and in particular uses the reports produced by tsarist officials responsible for the administration of Muslims in the empire. 

The Muslim Question begins with the aftermath of the Crimean War and ends with World War I, discussing developments taking place in several regions of the empire.  Chapter 1 looks at tsarist views of Crimean Muslim alienation from Russia in the aftermath of the Crimean War.  Chapter 2discusses the “apostasy” of Kräshen Tatars in central Russia in the middle nineteenth century, while chapter 3 examines the responses of Nikolai Il'minskii and others to this.  In chapter 4, focus shifts to tsarist strategies in administering Muslims in Central Asia, while in chapter 5, Campbell describes policymaking toward Muslim religious assemblies in the late ninetenth century.Chapters 6–8 discuss Muslim political activity and state responses to it during and after the Revolution of 1905,while chapter 9 examines official attitudes toward Muslims during the First World War. 

One of the most compelling features of The Muslim Question is Campbell’s conceptualization of tsarist attitudes toward Muslims in terms of a “question” existing alongside other questions (such as the  “Peasant Question” or the “Nationality  Question”)  facing  “educated  Russians” in  the  late imperial era.  This focus upon “a set of perceptions about Muslims, bundled under the construct of the Muslim Question” allows Campbell to discuss a variety of topics relating to Muslims in Russia in terms of “the Muslim Question” (p. 215).

Campbell is primarily interested in tracing the views of tsarist officials responsible for carrying out policies relating to Muslims within Russia, and The Muslim Question is replete with quotations taken from the reports authored by these figures.  However, it should be mentioned that most of the issues that Campbell discusses in The Muslim Question have already been explored elsewhere in works produced by scholars like Robert Geraci, Paul Werth, Robert Crews, Diliara Usmanova, and Daniel Brower.  Campbell adds often impressive detail to these discussions, drawing heavily upon state archival material to present the concerns of tsarist officials.  Nevertheless, Campbell provides relatively little indication of how her approach to these topics differs from those of other scholars who have worked on them recently.

It should also be noted that, with the exception of a handful of well-known Muslim activists, The Muslim Question is mainly an all-Russian—and all-state—affair.  While the study of policymaking toward Muslims can provide important insights into the nature of the late imperial tsarist state more generally, it is also important to remember that many Muslims—including those who were not well-known publicists or political figures—also had opinions about the place of Muslims in late imperial Russia.  While most tsarist officials saw “the Muslim question” as something to be formulated and answered by government officials alone, many Muslims in Russia attempted to join that conversation. Campbell, in  focusing  mainly  upon  state  attitudes  and  policies,  tends  to  follow  the  path  of  tsarist officials in removing most Muslim attitudes from this equation.

While  this  volume  covers  mostly  familiar  ground  with  respect  to  developments  taking  place between Muslims and state officials in imperial Russia, Campbell’s extensive use of state archival sources adds new source-based material to discussions of this subject.  As such, The Muslim Question should constitute necessary reading for anyone interested in issues pertaining to Muslims in imperial Russia.

Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your libarary.

More commentary, photos, and links can be found at the Borderlands Lounge.

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