Research Theme for 2016-2017
Religion and Political Violence in the Middle East
The high level of violence associated with movements like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and Libya, not to mention Boko Haram in Nigeria, raises important questions about how religious ideas and history are appropriated and used by political groups. Some have argued that to situate these movements properly, one has to examine the religious nature and content of their ideologies and actions. Others have claimed that it is social, economic, political, and historical factors--as opposed to the properly religious—that provide the actual context for understanding self-declared jihadist actors. The Transregional Institute would like to focus this year’s theme on the relationship between religion and violence, concentrating in particular on the history and ideologies of Jihadi-Salafi movements.
Research Theme for 2013-2015
The Language of Politics and the Politics of Language
The relationship between language and politics in the Middle East is fraught and little studied. The Republic of Turkey adopted a language policy that irrevocably changed Turkish and then deployed this as an instrument for molding a new national identity. Similarly, Arab nationalism used Arabic for ideological purposes, adopting specific rhetorical registers, vocabularies and tropes that are now being abandoned with the rise of new regimes with an Islamist orientation. As with the nationalists, Islamists have deliberately used language to advance their ideas about society and their political agendas. In so doing, they shun certain usages and terms while privileging others. The Islamic Republic of Iran, for example, has developed a repertoire of slogans and terms for promoting its distinctive ideological worldview. The government of Saudi Arabia has also used particular registers of Islamic theology and law to specific ends. These, however, are nonetheless contested by Islamists and liberal-minded activists who seek greater accountability and transparency in governance. And the fraught process of constitutional drafting in Egypt provides another good illustration of the importance of language. The relationship between language and politics, at the state as well as the street level, is the theme that the Institute for Transregional Studies wishes to explore during the academic year 2013-2014.
Research Theme for 2011-2013
Contestation in the Contemporary Arab World
The recent uprisings in the Arab world, the so-called “Arab Spring,” represent a watershed in the history of this region and its peoples, from Morocco to the Gulf. The stability and endurance of the Arab state has been called into question, as has “Arab exceptionalism” in resisting political change and the democratic wave that swept many regions of the globe in the late twentieth century. The Institute of Transregional Study would like to sponsor research that explores these events in-depth and what they mean for the territorial states, governments, societies, national boundaries as well as the regional system. Is the Arab system of states as rigid as has been claimed? Has Islamism given way to secular forms of politics? Can demographics, the so-called “youth bulge,” explain what we are witnessing? What has been the role of women? What is the role of social media and the information revolution in bringing this about? Has the rise in commodity prices also played a role? Are different types of regime affected differently by these developments (monarchies vs. republics; rentier states vs. production states)? What about the differences in the social makeup of these states? Are homogenous populations (e.g., Tunisia, Egypt) more able to effect change peacefully than those in which regional, sectarian or tribal cleavages are prominent (e.g., Syria, Yemen)? Successful fellows will be expected to tackle such questions. In the process, the Institute hopes that their research will contribute to a better understanding of these important events and offer ideas and frameworks for how to think about them as well as consider potential policy implications.
Research Theme for 2010-2011
The Resources of Contemporary Regimes in the Arab World
Recent scholarship on the politics in the Arab World has often focused on dissent and opposition to the state. In this literature, it is often taken for granted that the regimes in power lack legitimacy and that without their overwhelmingly coercive instruments of domination they would collapse and be replaced by more legitimate and representative groups. A robust view argues that in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Islamists of one hue or another would assume power if given a chance. But can the endurance of Arab governments be explained through coercion alone? Are social movements the only legitimate political forces in the Arab world? What are the resources at the disposal of contemporary Arab regimes? The Institute would like to sponsor research that seeks to ascertain the balance of coercion, co-optation and legitimation in the Arab world, as well as to assess the political, economic and symbolic resources of contemporary states. Successful fellows will investigate the ways and methods these regimes coerce and co-opt their citizens as well as enjoin obedience and manufacture legitimacy for their rule.
Research Theme for 2008-2010
Youth Culture and Politics in the Arab and Muslim Worlds
It is often remarked that there has been a demographic explosion in the Arab and Muslim worlds and that at least 65% of the population of any given country in this region is under the age of 30. Yet little else is known about this segment of the population. What are the forms of sociability that dominate amongst its members? How do youth deal with the reality of political oppression, conservative mores and mobility closure? Boredom, humiliation, sexual segregation, football and violence, in its many forms, are features in the lives of Arab and Muslim youth. Whereas most do not have access to the Internet, a good number do, especially in the Gulf countries. This and other technologies, such as the cellular telephone and Bluetooth, render possible certain forms of communication, some transgressive, and entertainment as well as ideas of community that were previously unimaginable. In turn this has produced new social realities and categories (internet jihadis; Facebook exhibitionists, E-mail novelists, etc). We hope to examine these and other questions pertaining to the culture and politics of Arab and Muslim youth.