Rationale: A critical school has emerged in the Study of Religion that identifies the category of ‘religion’ as a modern concept inseparable from its post-Enlightenment twin, ‘the secular’ (Asad 1993; Fitzgerald 2000; for more information on this school, see the Critical Religion Association website). Pioneering work has been done on the invention of ‘religion’ in various colonial contexts (Chidester 1996; King 1999; Masuzawa 2005; Josephson 2012; Horii 2018), but few sustained studies have been undertaken for Islam. An early study by WC Smith (1964) identified a modern shift toward using ‘Islam’ as a category, but nevertheless concluded it to be a special case. Certainly we see classical formulas such as ‘din wa dunya’ that seem to suggest an existing, perhaps even original, distinction between religion and non-religion. Whether or not ‘religion’ has been invented wholesale in Islam as in Hinduism, Buddhism, etc, initial studies of such discourse among Muslim intellectuals by Smith and Tayob (2009) have highlighted significant modern innovation.
Key research questions: The network provides a forum for discussion of questions including: To what extent, if any, is ‘religion’ a useful category of analysis in Islamic Studies? Was there an Islam ‘before religion’ (Nongbri 2013)? In what changing or varied ways do we see ‘religion’ as a bounded category of practice articulated, operationalised and institutionalised by or for Muslims in recent centuries? What distinctive characteristics and functions (e.g. rights, freedoms, authority, privatisation) does ‘religion’ have as a reified subject in Islamic discourse, that distinguish it from ‘non-religious’ or ‘secular’ domains? Does a ‘religion-secular’ dichotomy operate also in contexts where ideological secularism is rejected as un-Islamic? What role have colonial and post-colonial states played in Muslim (re)formulations of ‘religion’ and its others? Do such trends in Islamic contexts compare to the invention of ‘religion’ in other colonial contexts, or should we see Islam as exceptional in some way? What new methodologies may shed light on these dynamics? What implications may the critical study of ‘religion’ have for the way Islam is taught in schools and universities?
Aims: The CRSI network aims to create a space to foster an emerging sub-field at the intersection of critical theory in Religion and Islamic Studies, encouraging cross-regional and inter-disciplinary discussions in order to rethink the way we talk about Islam and Muslims. It includes anthropologists, historians, philologists, political scientists and others working on Muslim discourses and practices around the world. As well as creating a forum for discussion and dissemination among these scholars, the network will develop an online presence designed to offer a public resource for promoting this sub-field beyond its specialist membership: (a) introducing its critical methodologies as significant to others working on Muslim societies; and (b) presenting its findings to wider audiences including educators in Islam or religion, and non-specialist scholars seeking comparative data.