New Research Project launched at CEU: Striking from the Margins: Religion, State and Disintegration in the Middle East

The CEU Center for Religious Studies and the Institute for Advanced Study at CEU announce the launch of “Striking from the Margins: Religion, State and Disintegration in the Middle East,” a two-year research project commencing in September 2016 with a major grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The research program will host host two post-doctoral fellows and two doctoral scholars in its present, initial 2-year phase. The team will be based at CEU using our human and institutional resources,  and embedded in an international consortium of partner institutions in Amman, Beirut, London, New York and Paris.

The Project: The project Striking from the Margins: Religion, State, and Disintegration in the Middle East seeks a nuanced and dynamic understanding of the transformations of religion in relation to those of state and social structures, most specifically in Syria and Iraq over the past three decades. It aims to work towards conceptual and analytical vocabularies which would seem adequate to the situation, eschewing facile recourse to culturalist and post-colonialist explanations and lending keen attention to social dynamics, political economy, conjunctural developments and the global setting of comparable developments elsewhere. The project is concerned centrally with processes and mechanisms whereby once marginal sets of social, cultural, political and geographical margins, including religious margins, have been moving to the political centre. This is occurring under conditions which have witnessed the atrophy of state functions and the rise of neo-patrimonial communalist, including sectarian and tribal, formations. In analytical terms, the project deliberately intends to question assumptions about religious or sectarian ‘revivals,’ ‘returns of the repressed,’ and kindered analytical terms and categories. Religion had never been absent, but recent decades have seen that the religious field in the Middle East, as elsewhere, reconfigured and redefined, very visibly and within the lifetime of one generation, in such a way as to appear as an alternative historical and social model to existing social, cultural and political practices.

The main thematicareas of the project involve:

  • The reframing of religion and the devolution of religious authority to new actors.
  • The atrophy and devolution of state functions, including some security functions, to informal patrimonial and private actors.
  • Structural marginalization and socio-economic, cultural and geographical segmentation.
  • Transnational jihadist networks and the fulfilment of the margins
  • The theme of gender practices relations, and their transformations in present circumstances of jihadism and neo-traditionalism, is a transversal one that cuts across all the others listed, and deliberate attention will be paid to it.

Structure: The project in this phase is centred around two postdoctoral research fellows and two doctoral students, supported and engaged closely by the project’s supervisors and the external team members for the international consortium of Institutions involved in the project. CEU faculty and IAS fellows provide another rich resource.

Each fellow will be expected to carry out an individual research project with a definable outcome. The project team will organize an internal bi-weekly seminar at CEU during which issues are discussed and research presented, and to which external speakers will be invited to provide input on issues that are not covered by the project members themselves.

In addition, the project will establish an active website which will provide continuous output and discussion academic and otherwise, and will liaise with partner institutions in the Middle East. The project will conclude with a major conference in Beirut, and will produce a number of published volumes; provision for translation into Arabic has been made.

The project is supervised by Professor Aziz Al-Azmeh (CEU Center for Religious Studies and CEU Department of History) and Professor Nadia Al-Bagdadi (CEU Center for Religious Studies and Institute for Advanced Study at CEU).