With a lineage that goes back well over a thousand years, it might seem surprising that political science in Uzbekistan is considered a relatively new subject for teaching and research.
As pointed in an excellent review of the development of political science recently published by Professor Ravshan Nazarov, the perestroika reform period of the late 1980s was considered the birth of contemporary political science in Uzbekistan.
Professor Nazarov’s comprehensive review starts with the Central Asian intellectual giants of a millennium or so ago, a golden era of Islamic scholarship. Here we see the impact of thinkers, leaders and polymaths like Al-Farabi and Amir Temur (Tamerlane) on the development of political learning and theory.
Following a long hiatus after the 15th century, political thinking once again began to flourish some four hundred years later with the jadid reformers, whose investigations into culture and literacy necessarily touched on political issues. The 20th century brought Soviet rule to Uzbekistan, and with it the institutionalization of higher education along the Soviet model (see a previous post for more on the Soviet history of higher education in Central Asia).
In the Soviet Union, the study of topics relating to politics was heavily constrained by ideology and typically consigned to other disciplines such as history or philosophy. This is one reason why there was no official recognition of political science until 1987 – and even then it was created by top-down state mandate.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, political science continued to draw heavily from other disciplines – Nazarov names a wide range from law to sociology, even including a few scholars who made what he calls an “exotic” professional transition from fields including physics and maths.
With new universities opening in the 1990s and increasing interest in the field, things were looking bright for scholars of politics in independent Uzbekistan. That is, until 2010, when a series of policy changes were implemented that effectively banned politics as a subject of study and as a topic for research. This censure lasted for nearly a decade until, to use Nazarov’s term, it was ‘rehabilitated’ under President Mirziyoyev and politics was back on the curriculum.
Today, political science appears to be creeping back onto the academic and research agenda. This may take some time as those working in the field had to move to other disciplines (or other jobs) during the 2010s. Interestingly, Nazarov notes that the most active political science research is being done outside of state universities, either by non-state organizations or think tanks/research centres.
Professor Nazarov seems hopeful for the future based on this exceptionally long and at times very distinguished history. Certainly, there is plenty of scope for the study of politics to continue to evolve in Uzbekistan: the country’s geography, environment and domestic/international relations provide a wealth of opportunities to develop teaching and research along multiple lines. Ura!
NB: The original article by Prof Nazarov is in Russian; I recommend DeepL as a very accurate translation tool if you’re more comfortable using English or other languages.