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Photo of Torsten Janson

Torsten Janson


Photo of Torsten Janson

Islamizing the present, challenging the past


  • Torsten Janson

Summary, in English

The trajectories of politically activist and socially committed interpretations of Islam in (late)modern societies continue to spur heated debate and academic discussion. A recurrent theme is the compatibility of Islamic ideological/legal foundations vis-à-vis secular state institutions and liberal democracy. Other debates concern rights and identity politics, problematizing the recognition of religious versus human/civil rights, often in connection to gender discussions. And perhaps most vocal today are the debates of (notions of) Islam and Muslim agendas in relation to multiculturalism, integration and security. All too often, the debates build on simplified dichotomies, such as religious/secular, theocratic/democratic, violent/peaceful, and oppressive/liberating.

Looking beyond such dichotomies, this panel proposes to explore how socially committed interpretations of Islam often ambiguously develops within, and prospers from, the secular state institutions, the local socio-cultural processes and the national-historical narratives they rhetorically set out to challenge. In recent history as well as the present, Islamic movements and Muslim actors have formulated agendas in open-ended, hybridized yet subversive accommodations. In short, prevalent socio-political order may simultaneously constrain and facilitate the appeal to Islamic signage and moral universes.

Such perspectives build on an anthropological understanding of the political significance of Islamic symbols in Middle Eastern and diasporic societies. Politics indeed entails a symbolically expressed, public negotiation process of common social values, to draw on Eickelman & Piscatori. Accordingly, as pointed out by Lisa Wedeen, the management and manipulation of systems of signification are essential elements in the maintenance of political order, as well as in the subversion thereof.

In line with such dynamic perspectives on the political-cum-religious processes in current Middle Eastern and diasporic societies, this panel presents four divergent but interconnected perspectives on how (allegedly) Islamically inspired actors appeal to politically significant religious symbolic systems in their aspirations to agency, influence and authenticity. The papers of the panel will explore how they do so through subversive, creative and innovative appropriations of state institutions, historical narratives and political discourses.


  • MECW: The Middle East in the Contemporary World
  • Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)

Publishing year




Document type

Conference paper: abstract


  • Religious Studies
  • Political Science

Conference name

World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies 2018

Conference date

2018-07-16 - 2018-07-22

Conference place

Seville, Spain