DIGITISATION AND ISLAM
Understanding how a religion appears or transmutes is one of the ultimate challenges in history. MIDA project’s hypothesis is that we are witnessing a radical change in Islam. Indeed, the MIDA project rests on the premise that digitisation and technological innovation are having a tremendous influence on Islam that deserves to be studied from a variety of perspectives: on modes of expression and communication of religious messages and traditions, and on modes of engagement with society.
THE ACADEMIC FIELD
The rapid changes that are already occurring are generating a sense of loss of control and instability among the general public, politicians, journalists, academics, and, not least, among Muslims themselves. Consequently, they have shaken up Islam as a field of academic study and have impacted on the ways Islam is to be studied in the future. Last but not least, Islam is no longer a regional phenomenon; it is a European and even a global one.
The sudden rise of hitherto relatively marginal theological and ideological trends and movements, the rapid transformation of Islam in the public sphere, and the emergence of Islam as a brand through the rapid dissemination of public images and imaginaries, contribute to the ‘super visibility’ of Islam. The high impact of many current Islam-related events, should be considered as an effect of digitisation in the context of globalisation.
DIGITISATION AND PAST TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS
Digitisation and the concurrent innovations of the past few decades belong to the list of such fundamental technological transformations in human history as the invention of paper, printing technology, steam power, electricity and telecommunication, which constituted major upheavals.
NECESSITY FOR NEW SKILLS AND APPROACHES
The specificity of the current revolution calls for a re-evaluation of past situations and reflection on future prospects. The rapid spread of modern digital media and new technologies of production and dissemination prompts researchers and social actors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to make sense of and of and understand these developments. Engagement with these changes requires specific skills and approaches. Although the digitisation of Islam has been addressed for quite some time by scholars of various disciplinary backgrounds, research agendas are still fragmented and ad hoc.
The overall aim of the project is to draw a complex picture of the ceaselessly repeated invention of new traditions, as a new means of expressing the sense of belonging to Islam (identity, community, political, social and religious practices, beliefs and representations). This will contribute new knowledge on the mechanisms underpinning the social and political transformation of societies, in the Muslim commonwealth and in the world, which will be used for the political and social benefit of the EU. It will raise public awareness of human sciences and their uses by institutions.
01/HOW DOES DIGITISATION SHAPE ISLAM?
This question deals primarily with the actors involved and the practitioners. Digitisation and globalisation concern the new ways in which religious knowledge is produced and spread around the world, how new modes of religiosity and religious experience emerge, and how new modalities of communication, dissemination of knowledge, community building and self-fashioning come into being. Digitisation and globalisation also influence the ways religious documents and material culture, old and new, are perceived, appropriated and applied in changing circumstances. Digitisation has reconfigured the boundaries between the public and private spheres; it has fuelled the circulation of visual resources from and about the Muslim world on an unprecedented scale, bringing to global attention evidence and phenomena that were hitherto overlooked, or simply not available.
02/HOW DOES DIGITISATION & TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION MODIFY THE WAY MUSLIMS RELATE TO THEIR PAST?
This question deals with the ‘invention of tradition’, the definition of norms rooted in a reconstructed past and the choice of meaningful evidence of the past (be it written or oral, material or spiritual) to create a (world) community, to legalise certain institutions (such as the Caliphate), or to define new norms and new frames of normativity and sociability. The project builds on the premise that the mediation of Islam in the digital age may have new and unprecedented implications for the field of study, but the process of adaptation and renewal of specific forms, modes and practices is not at all new.
03/HOW DOES DIGITISATION MODIFY AND REORGANISE SCHOLARSHIP AND RESEARCH ON ISLAM?
This question is about the conceptual, epistemological and methodological implications digitisation has for the study of Islam and the new skills and competencies it requires. These changes will not only deeply influence the ways in which Islam is being studied and the circumstances and conditions in which this takes place, but will also reshape and reconfigure the ways scholars disseminate their findings and use them. In order to respond appropriately to these new circumstances, more focus and, even more crucially, a coherent research agenda (WP6) are needed to apply new insights and to develop better modes of engagement between scholars of different disciplinary backgrounds in order to capture the process of digitisation.
The network involves 25 Interacting Participants from academic units, non-academic Small and Medium Enterprises and Non-Governmental Organisation from Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. We have formalised the partnership through a Consortium Agreement, signed by all participants. Responsible for the network policy, the Supervisory Board sets functioning rules, assesses their effectiveness and designs alternative solutions in case of problems. With the Supervisory Board, WP leaders and co-leaders play a key role in the assessment of the project as they are in charge of presenting the progress made in their Wps.
The MIDA interdisciplinary training programme combines methodological and conceptual approaches from specialist fields (anthropology, sociology, political science, history, art history and literary studies) with know-how in the field of digital humanities (DH) to open up new perspectives on mediation and digitisation processes concerning Islam as a cultural field and practice. All ESRs will gain knowledge at the interface between disciplinary research strategies and concepts tackling main issues in the field of Islamic studies.
02/WORK PACKAGE LEADERS
NARRATIVE OF THE SELF
WP 01 deals with the way technological revolutions have informed the performance of selfhood (including gender), modes of engagement with society, and the political consequences of shifting boundaries between public and private spheres.
LANGUAGES AND TRANSLATIONS
WP 02 deals with the role of language and bilingualism / multilingualism in contemporary Islamic societies. Equally important are cultures of translation, both in the field of religious texts and traditions and in the transmission of knowledge.
IMAGES AND MATERIALITY IN ISLAM
WP 03 deals with the visual and material mediation of Islam over time. It posits that digitisation is entering into a long history of ‘media turns’ within Muslim societies whose comparative study in diachronic perspective may, in turn, shed light on the transformative power of technological innovation.
CONTESTED AUTHORITY AND KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION
WP 04 deals with the construction and transformation of religious authority and religious knowledge production in changing circumstances. It addresses questions of legitimacy, power and discipline.
MOBILITY AND MOBILISATION BEYOND BORDERS
WP 05 deals with places, spaces and flows, in both the real and the digital worlds. Globalisation, migration, displacement, the emergence of modern media outlets, and improved means of communication and transportation have altered on a global scale not only the forms of interaction within Islamic societies but also non-Muslims’ perceptions of Muslims and Islam.