Reorientations in Islam and Islamic Culture


Update content

Title Reorientations in Islam and Islamic Culture
Period 01 / 2006 - 12 / 2009
Status Completed
Research number OND1319767
Data Supplier Website HLCS


Since 1800, the Middle East and Islam have entered an entirely new phase. The interactions between the Islamic world and the West have increased considerably, both in frequency and in intensity, and had tremendous political, social and cultural consequences for both regions. The Islamic world became largely dependent on the West in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and this dependency has triggered a strong negative reaction. For the West, the increased interaction takes the shape of migration from the Middle East, which has led to an expansion of Islam in the West. This has also led to negative reactions from groups in the European population (because of the presence of Islam) as well as from Muslim migrants (who complained about the status they were given in their new countries). With the increased globalization and the emergence of transnational communities and connections, the interaction has taken on new dimensions. The confrontations in the social and political arena concern in particular the place of religion in the public domain. The public sphere is the domain in which public opinion is constructed independently of any government control. It is also the domain where identities, culture and religion are reconstructed. Since the end of the Cold War, the emergence of civil societies , and the globalization and development of the Internet, the public sphere has been subject to change. In addition to public debates, books, cassettes and pamphlets, Internet sites and mailing lists constitute an important form of the public domain. These are the arenas where the place of religion in the public sphere is hotly debated. In the West, religion has largely been banned from the public sphere and is regarded as a strictly personal affair and individual choice. The gap that has emerged between the private and the public domains as the areas for religion and politics respectively, does not allow a mixing of spheres. The secularization process fuels the idea that religious expressions in the public sphere are by definition political expressions of an anti-liberal nature. The ambiguous place of religion in the public sphere in the Middle East is also subject of discussion. Particularly the secularized regimes fear religious expressions in the public sphere; Islamic regimes on the other hand impose rules that actually demand such expressions from the population. The transnational discourse on the place of Islam in the public sphere in the West and Middle East will be central to this sub-programme. This theme will be elaborated with respect to both the political and cultural dimensions of Islam in the public domain. More concretely, the following questions and issues will be addressed. First, discourses on the role of religion vis-à-vis political leadership will be examined. This involves such questions as: Is it necessary for public authorities to be religiously neutral or secular? How does a government of a country with a mainly Muslim population acquire legitimacy? Which place is reserved for religious minorities in a nation state? What are the relations between the religious and the public (national) systems of education? What is the status of universal human rights in an Islamic state? The research conducted by Tayob is an attempt to find answers to these questions. Second, discourses on Islamic or fundamentalist movements are also subjects of study. These groups demand that religion be given a place in the public sphere. Emerging in the course of the 20th century in different parts of the world, they have resisted the political, economic and cultural demands of the West. Their aim is to make Islamic values and standards the guiding principles for modern states. Terrorist attacks inside and outside Islamic countries have made them infamous and notorious. Yet there are great differences between the rival groups within the fundamentalist movements. Particularly the Salafis and the moderate movements such as the Muslim Brethren differ considerably as far as ideology, organization, social background, strategy and the relationship with the West are concerned. The interactions and clashes between these two movements in the Middle East and in Europe are the subjects studied by Meijer and Termeulen. Strategies and concepts of both movements such as jihad and hijra and the transnational debate on the legitimacy of violence are central to this research. The focus of the third line of research is the debate on the relationship between Islam, on the one hand, and culture and identity, on the other. Here, the transnational aspects of discourses and practices are taken into account, too. The growing visibility of Islam in the European public space provoked discussions on national identity in several European countries. In the Middle East, there is strong disagreement between artists who are inspired by the so-called islamization of art and culture and secularist intellectuals. In the West, there is a growing need among migrants from the Middle East for authentic forms of art and culture. These forms can be inspired by Islamic or traditional culture, or can be an individual reaction to being stigmatized as Muslims by the majority. These issues are studied by van Nieuwkerk and a number of PhD students.

Related organisations

Related people

Project leader Dr. R. Meijer
Project leader Prof.dr. C. van Nieuwkerk
Project leader Prof.dr. A. Tayob


D42200 Social and public administration
D60000 Social sciences

Go to page top
Go back to contents
Go back to site navigation