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Mohammad Magout

Junior Researcher

m.magout@uni-leipzig.de

Areas of interest

  • Modern history of Nizari Ismailism

  • Sociology of religion and knowledge with focus on academic contexts

  • Discourses about religion in the public sphere

  • Secularity in the Arab world

Research project: Between Religion and Culture. Academic Discourse and Religious Subjectivity at Two Nizari Ismaili Institutions for Islamic Studies in London

Religious communities around the world are increasingly drawing on social sciences to claim legitimacy in the public sphere and adapt their traditions to the conditions of late modernity. In the context of Islam, Nizari Ismailis are one of the pioneering communities to dedicate extensive resources for the production of academic discourse and the training of an intellectual elite in this field of knowledge. For this purpose, Ismailis have established two academic institutions in London: The Institute of Ismaili Studies and the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations. This research project aims at accomplishing two primary objectives: first, to analyze the approach of these two institutes to the study of Islam and contextualize it within global debates about religion and modernity; second, to investigate how the religious subjectivities of their students, who come from different parts of the world with different modes of secularity, may change as a result of their studies and social environment in London. The project builds on the theory of reflexive modernization along with the writings of Talal Asad and Peter L. Berger on the epistemic dimension of secularization. Furthermore, it employs “multiple secularities” as a framework for the analysis of daily interactions and mutual perceptions between individuals from different cultural backgrounds. The analysis indicates that in terms of academic discourse, Ismailis broaden the definition of Islam from religion to culture in order to assert its objective reality and legitimacy (vis-à-vis secularism) in the public sphere. Furthermore, this conceptual shift serves to provide a legitimation for differences within Islam as well as within Ismailism itself. For students, on the other hand, the encounter with Ismailis who maintain significantly different religious traditions and conceptions together with exposure to academic scholarship about Islam result often in a condition of cognitive dissonance. In order to overcome the ensuing mental discomfort, students employ various strategies to legitimize their religious beliefs, which include the internalization of uncertainty, compartmentalization, focusing on functions of religion, and drawing on the Ismaili distinction between exoteric and esoteric meanings.

Relevant Publications

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