Entailing breakthrough developments in many different disciplines, the MIDA project is interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral and, naturally, international, with regard to not only the participants involved (6 countries), but also the origin of the future Early Stage Researchers, and the issues dealt with.
The presence of strongly interdisciplinary research units (CNRS, NISIS, CSIC, IRD, GIGA) within the network is an asset in meeting the scientific objectives of MIDA.
One of the aims of the network is that these partners should act as ‘seeds’ for other partners to move toward more interdisciplinary approaches in their research on Islam, and Muslim and Islamicate societies (i.e. including non-Muslims).
This type of interdisciplinary training of highly skilled scholars and decision-makers is critical for improving the competitiveness of European research units and institutions, especially as it targets high-stake applications in strategic domains such as policy-making, refugees, foreign affairs and culture.
The MIDA project is to develop a lasting interdisciplinary network of European researchers to address critical, social and political issues. The implications of digitisation for Islam as religious practice and as a field of study are diverse, complex, and gender-related.
THEMATIC WORK PACKAGES >
The MIDA project distinguishes five thematic interlocking work packages, organised logically along scales from the self to the World. They deal with fields where digitisation and technological changes take on specific forms that require specific expertise. The work packages are designed to acquire knowledge and insight, to apply this knowledge and make it available to partner organisations, and to train professionals to achieve this goal.
The main objectives of MIDA research programme are to understand:
how technological innovations have informed the performance of Muslim selfhood, the modes of engagement with society, and the political consequences of shifting boundaries between public and private spheres
how technological innovations have impacted on languages, religion and culture’s first communication tool, and translation
how the transformative power of technological innovations has influenced the visual and material mediation of Islam over time
how technological innovations have shaken ‘established’ authorities and favoured new audiences and discursive communities
how speed and flows have modified Islamic perceptions of space and community
WP 1 — NARRATIVE OF THE SELF >
Thematic Work Package 1, ‘Narrative of the Self’, 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. Just as the paper revolution enabled a masculine culture of high literacy, the current digital age empowers new forms of narrating the self through everyday life blogs, YouTube testimonies and online creative productions, where women play an important role. One the first autobiographies written in eleventh-century al-Andalus highlights the emergence of ‘the individual’ as a political subject. This makes it clear that, although unique in scope and form, the digital age also builds upon an established autobiographical genre as a political narrative. Do these new forms of self-narrative and performance offer insight into the development of new forms of selfhood? What are the most important characteristics and expressive forms of these new forms of selfhood? What are their potential political consequences? Do they indicate some new balance between genders?
WP 2 — LANGUAGES AND TRANSLATIONS >
Thematic Work Package 2, ‘Languages and Translations’ 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. Translation itself is an embedded social activity that needs an aggregate of skills and resources that are channelled far beyond the translation desk. In the colonial age, the translation and printing of books and periodicals were textual practices and processes central to the globalisation of Muslim societies. Contemporary digital media have not yet replaced printing, but they have fundamentally influenced language changes by strengthening vernacular languages and challenging the hegemony and authority of the Arabic script.
WP 3 — IMAGES AND MATERIALITY IN ISLAM >
Thematic Work Package 3, ‘Images and Materiality in Islam’ 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. Examples and expressions of change brought into Islam by media and technology are numerous. An early instance is what has been called ‘the art of the public text’, through which Fatimid rulers asserted authority; their messages were mediated and materialised by inscriptions on architecture and on textiles. Manuscript production following the introduction of paper from China is another example of a new form of transmission provided by a material innovation. For the modern era — from the nineteenth century onward —, examples range from unprecedented figurative art and portraiture fuelled by easel painting and photography, to the new narrativities brought by the printing press, the institution of the museum or the development of broadcasting, down to the current social media. One way to historicise digitisation, using the lens of mediation and materiality, is to study specific groups of objects or corpora (corpuses) within one medium and to trace their inner developments, or to compare them with other medium-related groups and identify commonalities and differences. Working on sets of material objects (whether manuscripts, artefacts, paintings, films, etc.) requires, as a preliminary step, taking into account their modern reconfiguration. The collections or holdings where such sets are kept and can be studied today have themselves a history, whether connected to Orientalist knowledge, the colonial and national invention of tradition or the current reclaiming of Arabic heritage by collectors and institutions in the Gulf. The formation of given collections is not neutral; it introduces a bias on the data sample to be studied that needs to be addressed as such.
WP 4 — CONTESTED AUTHORITY AND KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION >
Thematic Work Package 4, ‘Contested Authority and Knowledge Production’ deals with the construction and transformation of religious authority and religious knowledge production in changing circumstances. It addresses questions of legitimacy, power and discipline. Muslims have held varying, sometimes conflicting, views on the extent to which knowledge and authority are exclusive to a single figure or a male ‘professional’ group, or distributed in society, on how knowledge should be transmitted and controlled, and the literary forms that it should take, and on how it should be reproduced. This is certainly not a novel issue. It is therefore important to compare cases in the past with recent developments. Questioning ‘established’ religious authorities and addressing new audiences is as old as Islam, but digitisation has intensified this process in an unprecedented way, resulting in the rise of new intellectuals, the feminisation of contestation, the ‘democratisation’ of knowledge production, the emergence of new audiences and discursive communities, the relocation, subjectivation, and fragmentation of authority, and in new forms of community building, online and offline.
WP 5 — MOBILITY AND MOBILISATION BEYOND BORDERS >
Thematic Work Package 5, ‘Mobility and Mobilisation beyond Borders’ 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. Therefore, through selected case studies, WP5 will seek to investigate mediating practices resulting from the mobility of people or concepts. Undoubtedly, the most important case for encounters between Muslims is presented by the Hajj pilgrimage as the central pillar of the Islamic world. In the past, it was the locale for gathering and intellectual exchange between mainly male scholars and dignitaries. But today it has been popularised by new technologies and it brings together far more layers of society, including many women and families, and constitutes a ‘globalised event’ as non-pilgrims can participate to some extent through live streamings. Pilgrims and Muslim tourists who visit the Islamic world discuss their views on the past or the present of Islamic societies. This usage of the past represents another vital element in the mobility of ideas. Muslim thinkers have always encountered different concepts of historiographical analysis from an inner Islamic perspective or with non-Muslim historians. This process can be examined in space and time through the concept of ‘al-Andalus’. In contrast, Muslim migration to Central Europe is quite a new phenomenon. In the current discussions in Europe, European Jihadists’ terrorist threats overshadow the topic to such an extent that a neutral treatment of Islam and Muslims has become almost impossible as the basis of common trust seems to be fading away in European societies.
This project has received the European union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement N°813547.