Art and aesthetics
Islam is often seen as restricting artistic human expression. Many forms of entertainment such as the cinema and music, which are part of daily life for most Muslims, are prohibited by traditional Islamic authorities. The project is therefore studying the institutions’ approaches towards the performing and visual arts. Which forms of artistic expression are restricted and which are encouraged? Why are some of these institutions increasingly using historical Islamic architectural sites as a teaching medium?
While mapping the underlying philosophical positions of these competing schools of thought, their approach to spirituality (tasawwuf) will also be a key area of cross-cutting thematic analysis.
Phase 2: Interviews and Ethnographic Fieldwork
Textual analysis is being complemented by in-depth interviews with scholars from the selected institutions, as well as extensive engagement with their students and followers. Individual interviews and groups discussions are being organised with students who take regular classes at these institutions; and also with the young Muslims who follow these scholars in person or through media such as YouTube, the internet or cable TV. The most extensive fieldwork will be carried out with followers of the institutions being studied in the West, since these have as yet received limited scholarly attention. Over the five years of the project, the project team will develop institutional histories; build profiles of their key scholars; understand their approach to intellectual revival and reform; map their organisational and transnational networks; and identify the factors which make them appeal to their students and followers.
Phase 3: Followers’ Survey
After mapping the theological and intellectual positions of the selected institutions during the first two years of the project, the team will develop and implement a number of surveys with their followers. The surveys will aim to capture the changing aspirations of young Muslims and to understand how important religion is, if at all, in shaping their everyday life choices. These surveys will also identify the factors that make a Muslim follow one Islamic authority structure over another.