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Religion, Processes of Interpretation, and Identity Formation in the Middle East 

Understanding religion as a dynamic social phenomenon in a broad sense, and as a set of diverse and evolving socially embedded discursive practices is essential scrutinizing the role and function of religion in a Middle Eastern context. Consequently, in historic as well as everyday experiences the changing realities of processes of interpretation connected to bygone moments and/or current creations of conceptual spaces are important in scholarly analyses of the meaning of “religion”.

In addition, the function of religion, questions of power concerning interpretation and agency plays a significant role in regard to confessional and non-confessional actors play in the production of religion as well as in struggles concerning etic or emic conceptualizations of identity. Hence, the focus in this research theme concerns the role of religion in contemporary societies –a study founded on a perception developed in a secular framework in regard to religious studies.

A key area in the study of religion as a social phenomenon is the confessional struggle about “interpretation”. The term “interpretation” is in this context representing the various processes in which a specific understanding of Islam is produced and how interpretations are maintained and justified and sometimes translated into religious practices or more general notions of being “religion”. Hence, this theme wakes a contribution to the field of religious studies by displaying how constructions of theology and everyday realities structure ritual life and guide the investments made by leaders as well as followers in the very same rituals, rather than understanding ideas and rituals as free from political considerations and formed only in reference to a static and abstract theology.

A general aim is to counteract monolithic and essentialist ideas and to promote a perspective that studies, for example, Islam, Christianity or Judaism as dynamic and fluid, analytically centered on the production of religion. This way of studying religion is intimately related the creation of notions about “identities” and how they are discursively formed. Hence, under the umbrella of this theme of research the productive aspect plays a significant part whether that concerns the terms “religion” or “identity”.

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Torsten Janson