Religious outbidding struggels and power of interpretation conflicts in the global field of Salafism


Information about the Project

Project Manager: Youssef Dennaoui
Applicant: Patrick Becker

Duration: 10.2020-09.2024 (4 years)

Funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research funding line „Gesellschaftliche Ursachen und Wirkungen des radikalen Islam in Deutschland und Europa“

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Religious conflicts of interpretation and outbidding struggles in the global field of Salafism: A comparative study of salafist beliefs between Germany and Morocco

(Head: Dr. Youssef Dennaoui)

Salafist theological discourses are predominantly based on a polemical style of discourse. In order to articulate their claim to interpretive power and thus make a distinction between themselves and other movements in the religious field of Islam, large parts of Salafist theology operate in a way that is referred to in the framework of this project as 'religious outbidding'. This refers to a competitive strategy that is not the usual case of theological disputes in Islam, but occurs in times of crisis, proceeds in an unregulated manner, and is designed to be conflictive. Through the use of outbidding techniques, authoritative texts and discourse traditions of Islam are read in an aggravated and selective way, and the consequence of this reading is presented as the 'pure' and 'authentic' Islam. Therefore, this reading is characterized by the fact that it is directed against institutionalized regulated procedures and state institutions of production, circulation and appropriation of religious knowledge in Islam and even challenges and questions them in terms of their 'islamicity' and legitimacy. Religious outbiddings are discussed among Muslim theologians as religious exaggerations (mughalat), but there is no detailed sociological analysis of their modern contexts, developments and consequences. They also receive little attention within international Salafism research. Therefore, in the first phase of the project, an analytical concept of outbidding will be developed that allows to conceptualize a model of modern outbidding struggles in Islam and, above all, to identify Salafist discourses of outbidding in their contexts and to analyze them discourse-analytically. The project is therefore guided by the question of when and under what conditions religious outbidding struggles lead to the conflicts that foster polarization and radicalization.

The discourse-analytical study will be based on methodological steps as provided by the sociology of knowledge approach to discourse (SKAD). Accordingly, the discourse-analytical examination of the assumption of a religious exaggeration practice in Salafism will be conducted through a thematic reconstruction of key texts that are considered as central references among Salafists in the two examined contexts (Morocco/Germany). The focus is on discourses that guide Salafist theologies: especially discourses of purity and authenticity, loss and salvation and loyalty and renunciation. From a discourse analytical perspective, these key discourses in both contexts are examined according to patterns of religious outbidding. The underlying concepts (purity, salvation, etc.) are not only to be reconstructed in terms of their Salafist significance, but also in terms of their struggles for meaning with other religious alternatives in the respective religious field of Islam (Germany/Morocco). The assumption is that the surplus of meaning that Salafist reinterpretations and selections produce in their outbidding practices can thus be described discourse-analytically as outbidding content and can be analyzed comparatively in terms of its possible radicalization effects.

By comparing Morocco and Germany, the results of the discourse analysis are to be validated comparatively, while also doing justice to the transnational character of Salafist discourses: Even though the sociocultural, institutional and situational frameworks of the two societies (Morocco/Germany) diverge greatly, the underlying problem to be explained remains identical for both contexts (religious radicalization in Islam illustrated by the example of Salafism). Therefore, the discourse analysis will start with the different local aspects and particularities in order to learn more about the historical and social contexts of the origin and appeal of Salafist outbidding practices, without losing sight of their transnational dimension.

In the second phase of the project, the research results will be used to assess existing measures against radical Salafism in Germany and to generate new ones. Here, the comparison with Morocco is beneficial, since the country is in a comparable situation in its confrontation with radical Salafism. Existing approaches will be evaluated and new approaches will be developed in cooperation with various actors, including the city of Aachen (The "Wegweiser - gemeinsam gegen Islamismus" program), the CoRE network in North Rhine-Westphalia, Islamic mosque communities and centres of Islamic theology in Germany. The guiding principle is to establish local cultures of prevention against religious radicalization that take transreligious and translocal causes into account.

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Transferprojekt RADIS