This research aims to study state policies of the religious control in Belt and Road countries in Central Asia, including China (Xinjiang province), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. Through a comparative study of the religious policies in these countries, this study seeks to reveal how the socialist or post-socialist authorities govern and control religious people. To wit, this refers to how to transform people’s infrastructure of faith from the faith in gods to the faith in the states.
China is the initiator of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), attempting to strengthen the infrastructure and ties between China and other countries of Asia. Nonetheless, an unintended effect of the BRI is that the increased communication and association between Belt and Road countries facilitate and intensify religious circulations in these societies. Religious groups sharing the same infrastructure of faith connect each other, establish transnational networks, and organize interstate activities. The circulation and penetration of religious networks make state leaders feel threatened. So, they have made a set of policies to strengthen religious control over people. How to change people’s infrastructure of faith from the faith in gods to the faith in states is the kernel of the policies.
China’s religious policies directed at the religious ethnic minorities of Xinjiang beget severe criticism from the international community; however, the post-socialist republics of central Asia carry out comparable policies of religious control, albeit less radical or extreme. We can see the structural similarity of these policies and measures: building infrastructures of religious control and repression. This research will compare the policies and infrastructures built by China and central Asian republics on the Belt and Road to control and manage their Muslim populations, and will examine to what extent the BRI leads to stronger or weaker religious repression.
This research enriches our understanding of state-building in the Central Asia countries, an underdeveloped area for a long time. Moreover, through the comparative analysis, we can see China’s impacts on its adjacent countries. These impacts are not only economic and political but also cultural and religious. Finally, by comparing the religious efforts of the five states, I will develop a general explanation of the dilemma state leaders have encountered when building a strong state in a strongly religious society. The challenges from religion to modern states are ubiquitous in most countries in the world. So, the theory developed from this research can be widely applied to other countries.