This volume of studies from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, gives important insight into the deep challenges which confront the so-called newly independent states of Central Asia. These include the economic challenge of developing an adequate base after the physical links with the Soviet Union have been severed, and the problem of developing democratic educational and political institutions in the aftermath of a totalitarian ideology. These are enormous tasks any one of which would paralyse most peoples, yet all of them must be confronted simultaneously. Moreover, this cannot be delayed, for the population lives now and the next generation is being educated, rightly or wrongly, today.
The deeper issue, however, is how this people will respond to so great a challenge: what are its real roots; what paths will constitute a response, rather than its perpetuation; and where can one find the resources of vision which will enable this people to pursue paths which lead not into the past, but into a future they choose as the way to live their identity in these circumstances.
To confront these question Professor Said Shermukhamedov, who had been Minister of Education in the past, brought together a young team to reflect in a structured manner upon the quandaries of the people, upon the resources available from the past, and upon the tasks being faced in the various dimensions of Uzbek life. The results of this work may not be a full prescription for the future, but any attempt at such a prescription will have to take account of the matters found in this work.
These are organized in three Parts which focus in turn upon the present need for the development of spiritual culture, the resources from which this can be drawn or in terms of which it can be developed, and some areas of application.
Part I "The Need for Spiritual Culture" is a theme which in one way or another pervades the entire work. Throughout, in a fairly muted manner but with great cumulative force, their emerges a sense of the repression and distortion entailed by the radical application of the Soviet materialist ideology over most of the 20th century: the murder of successive waves of leadership and of vast numbers of people, the destruction of 14,000 mosques in a two year period and of 26 of 29 medrasas or schools for classical Islamic learning, and the imposition of an exploitive monoculture. Alluded to but briefly, these are glimpses of the harsh terror which froze the mind and heart and which provide the essential, if largely unstated, premise for the desperate present need for the missing spiritual culture.
This appears all the more starkly when cast against the rich cultural resources of the past. These are traced back even to the periods of totem, myth and zoroastrianism (see G. McLean, Ways to God [Washington, D.C.: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 1999], chs. II-IV). Conversely, that the flourishing seven centuries of Christianity in their cultural history are not mentioned is indicative of the systematic elimination of their history under Marxism, and hence the extreme importance of the work of Kristoff Kukulka in bringing together teams of anthropologies, historians and other scholars in Tashkent to write two indispensable volumes which begin to fill this gap.
The rich Islamic cultural history of the region is identified with such great philosophers as Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and scientists such as Ulubek. Truly this was the cultural center of the world in the middle ages, before coming under attack from East and more recently from the West.
In this light it begins to appear true, but much too little, to say simply that because for 60 years the focus had been on material values there is need now to complement this by spiritual values in order to assure social progress. The formula is true and seems to have been foremost in the mind of Said Shermukhamedov in Chapter I, "Issues regarding the Interaction of Spiritual Culture and Social Progress," and perhaps in the mind of most of the authors. On this basis one can find suggestions of steps needed in order to humanize past practice.
But to proceed to ask on what basis such steps can be realized opens a subtext that pervades the work and gives it its special meaning. As the first volume in the series of Uzbek Philosophical Studies it outlines the needs for various elements of a spiritual culture and this is its contribution. But by doing so it raises the deeper question of how such a spiritual culture can be founded.
Yes, as stated by Rustam Z. Jumaev in Chapter II, "New Ways of Thinking and Political Culture," it is central to make place for a pluralism of cultures and peoples and develop a civil society by which they cooperate in any new political order conducive to social progress. But for this one needs to go more deeply into the nature of freedom as a properly spiritual human reality.
Similarly, as noted by Boris Patlakh in Chapter III, "Moral Culture," there is need for moral values and indeed for a culture based thereupon, but for this it will be necessary to go much further into the nature of values and the way they delineate culture as a foundation for Chapter II.
Moreover, as noted by Umarov Erkin in Chapter IV, "The Role of Aesthetic Culture in Social Progress," it will be necessary to develop this not simply in terms of law or even of ethics, but with an aesthetic competency in order to provide for creativity in the development of the new society and to be able to relate this as well to the Creator and to the order of physical creation in which we live. The aesthetic has long been overlooked in the search for certainty understood as rational clarity. It is characteristic of this age that the importance of the aesthetic has now begun to be recognized; the work of the new century, if not the new millennium, will be concerned notably with this.
Chapter V by Abidjanov Alisher, "The Human Person as Object and Subject of Culture," points toward the heart of the matter by stressing that such creative work must be carried out by persons as both subjects and objects of culture. This cannot be adequately expressed in semiotic or structuralist term, but must take account of the person as someone who is actively engaged in producing himself. It may be symptomatic of the present challenge that Alisher places his hope for this in the very science which had produced the stultification of human life in the past. Real persons who can build a personal future for the people must be more than scientific products. Whence can such insight be derived; how can it be developed?
Chapter VI by Said Shermukhamedov, "The Culture of International Communications and Social Progress," carries the issue into the field of international communication as he proceeds from the need for technology and thence for information. But he begins to touch a deeper nerve when he speaks of the need for respect. This suggests the need for a hermeneutics that enables one to see the other as a needed companion rather than merely as a competitor, and for a philosophy whereby one can value one’s cultural tradition and draw therefrom the resources for basic respect of self and other? Beyond a sense of abstract unity in the species, there is need for the culture’s living bond of religion and the metaphysics.
All of this points to the most basic human need — that of a spiritual culture — to which the ideology which dominated 20th century life in Uzbekistan life left little or no room. Perhaps the only place in the USSR where a philosophy or phenomenology of the person was to be found was in Tbilisi, Georgia. But though relatively close geographically, all lines of communication were interrupted as they passed through Moscow and its dehumanizing ideology.
The appendix suggests ways in which a sense of civil society can be developed which is not dependent upon a socialist or an individualist ideology, but is rooted in the cultural traditions of a people, whether Eastern as Confucian or Islamic, or Western in its deeper Graeco-Christian roots.
Part II "Resources for a Spiritual Culture" indicates that Uzbekistan does have such resources for a restoration and renewal of its social life. Chapter VII by M. Karabaev, "Festival-Ritual Culture as a Factor of Social Progress," traces these cultural resources far back into the history of the people by tracing their festivals. This suggests that there is much detailed work to be done to draw out the moral culture which these festivals bespeak.
Chapter VIII by Abdusamedov Anvar, "The Place of Islamic Culture in Social Progress," surveys the development of Islam not merely in this area, but across the world. There is much to be done here in promoting deep study of this tradition, not only to mine the cultural resources it harbors for social redevelopment in our day, but also for setting up a strong fire wall, as did al-Ghazali in the past, against radical manipulation of these forces.
Chapter IX by Usein Karimov and Olga Lantseva, "Language and Its Role in the Social Progress and the Spiritual Perfection of the Person," develops a wonderfully insightful examination of language as not merely speech, but meaningful knowledge which emerges when being is addressed in terms of spirit. For this the author points importantly to Eastern, especially Hindu, philosophy as well as to modern metaphysics.
Chapter X by Tukhtaev Khakim, "The Continuity of Knowledge in the Socio-Cultural Progress of Independent Uzbekistan," unfolds the implications of this for the broad range of social values from good neighborliness to moral evolution toward social justice. Chapter XI by Achildiev Abduvakhid, "National-Cultural Interests and Social Progress," describes the policies for the preservation of national monuments and museums which embody this cultural heritage of the nation.
Part III "Structures of Spiritual Culture" examines a series of areas of public life whose concern is not directly spiritual culture, but which must be so marked if the national life is to be truly humane. Thus, Chapter XII by Valiev Botir, "The Role of Economic Culture in Social Progress," identifies not so much the structure and mechanics of a market economy, but such of its human factors: experience, will, initiative, etc. Indeed, Fukayama distinguishes here between the directly economic values of work parsimony, etc., and a deeper set of such more humane values as trust, cooperation and the like upon which the former rely. It would be wrong to think that these can be decreed or developed as simple matters of technique; instead they emerge from the culture of a people. Some of these factors are already present, others call for further elaboration of virtues which had been developed in the cultural tradition under other circumstances. Combining, evolving and transforming these spiritual values is the major task in developing the spiritual culture needed for an economy dependent upon private initiative.
Similarly in Chapter XIII by Nazarov Ravshan, "Social Progress and the Administration of Cultural Processes," provides an intricate schema of the administrative function. The efficiency and above all the humanity with which these are exercised sets the quality of the public life of the country. This, in turn, calls most fundamentally for a redevelopment of the spiritual culture of the people which during the last century had been systematically suppressed.
Chapter XIV by N. Shermukhamedova, "The Role of Science in Social Progress", describes the change taking places in the present day from an industrial to a technological society and the need this entails for science. But she moves beyond a simply pragmatic need for technicians to indicate how this is a matter as well of developing a populace and a public life in which passion is directed by reason and reasonable goals are sought passionately.
Finally, Chapter XV by Victoriya Levinskaya, "The Place of Ecological Culture in Civil Society," takes up the role of spiritual culture in social progress with regard to the physical environment. One might expect the usual account of the ecological disaster resulting from the physical exploitation of the region, but she takes us much further by reaching back into Russian authors from the period around 1900 for suggestions regarding human interaction with the universe. Drawing upon elements in the Orthodox religious tradition, they first opened the sense of the world as a whole considered from the perspective of outer space.
She follows this with an extensive review of the thought of V. Vernadskiy regarding the noosphere which he constructed initially upon the suggestion of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuite in the Catholic tradition. Vernadskiy examines the way in which the major forces not only of human evolution, but of the world (and potentially of the universe as a whole) are becoming less matters of physical life which might be described as the biosphere, than of the noosphere as matters of human intelligence and its direction by the will and the spiritual moral qualities of humankind. This is the central issue of spiritual culture as a set of moral values for social life.
But more deeply it is also a matter of the metaphysical and religious values by which spiritual culture not only orders its social relations, but sets their goals; by which it not only manipulates nature for short term advantage, but finds the bases for harmonious cooperation; and by which it not only follows its own interests and culture, but expands these to the dimensions of the global interchange which opens now before us.
These insights of Victoriya Levinskaya bring the potentialities and challenge of the entire volume into focus. They are suggested in a more general manner in the epilogue by Imamjon Rakhimov, "The Philosophy of Culture and Social Progress". He grounds these in the deep wisdom and warm heart of the Uzbek people, giving hope thereby that this people can not only survive the rigors of the last century, but he once again be a light to the world.
George F. McLean