This month, CEU's Center for Religious Studies and the Institute for Advanced Study at CEU are launching a new, two-year project entitled “Striking from the Margins: Religion, State and Disintegration in the Middle East.” The project seeks a nuanced and complex understanding of the transformations of religion in relation to related changes in state and social structures, most specifically in Syria and Iraq over the past thirty years. Supported by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the research program will host initially two postdoctoral fellows and two doctoral scholars, who will be based at CEU and embedded in an international consortium of partner institutions in Amman, Beirut, London, New York and Paris.
Close attention will be paid to social dynamics, political economy, changing circumstances and the global setting of comparable developments thus going beyond easy explanations and misguiding common cliches. In practical terms, the project seeks to create new forms of collaboration and networks between CEU and other international partners, which will have implications beyond the academic world. In thematic terms, the project will explore the current role of religion and how that has changed with the reconfiguration of religious authority and religious actors; the weakening and devolution of state functions, including some security functions, to non-state actors reconceived and reinvented as some sectarian or tribal; mechanisms of structural marginalization arising from socio-economic, cultural and geographical conditions, and the marshalling of the marginalized by transnational jihadist networks and the multiplication of lines of fracture; and, finally, the transformations of gender practices and relations under these circumstances.
“Religion has never been absent, but recent decades have seen 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,” explains Aziz Al-Azmeh, project director and professor at CEU's Department of History and former director of the Center for Religious Studies.
The members of the project will work in close cooperation with the project supervisors Al-Azmeh and Professor Nadia Al-Bagdadi (director of the Institute for Advanced Study at CEU and former director of CRS). In addition to the university based engagements and activities, the project integrates external team members of the international consortium of associated institutions, in the Middle East, Europe and the US.
Throughout its lifetime, the project will communicate through its active website providing for the broader interested public continuous output and discussion. At the conclusion of this project, which is envisaged as the first phase of a longer and broader undertaking, a major conference will be held in Beirut, and a number of volumes will be published (including translations into Arabic). With work produced at CEU and circulated in the projects’s network, it is hoped that a critical mass of new knowledge and analysis will be produced and will generate a multiplier effect.