Islamist Networks Workshop

Organized by:

Charles Kurzman
Department of Sociology
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
CB#3210, 155 Hamilton Hall
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3210 USA
Phone: 1-919-962-1241
Fax: 1-919-962-7568
Quintan Wiktorowicz
Department of International Studies
Rhodes College
2000 North Parkway
Memphis, TN 38112-1690 USA
Phone: 1-901-843-3609
Fax: 1-901-843-3371

Hosted by:

Center for the Study of Muslim Networks
John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary & International Studies
Duke University
Box 90402, 2204 Erwin Road
Durham, NC 27708-0402 USA
Phone: 919-668-2146
Fax: 1-919-684-8749

Supported by:

American Sociological Association, Fund for the Advancement of the Discipline
Duke University, John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary & International Studies


Summer-Fall 2002: Finalizing list of participants.
February 1, 2003: One-page statements due from participants. See details below.
February 21, 2003: Participants congregate in Durham, North Carolina, late afternoon. Dinner reception and keynote address. See Agenda.
February 22, 2003: Workshop morning and afternoon. Dinner receptions. See Agenda.
February 23, 2003: Participants depart Durham, North Carolina. See initial Project Summaries in password-protected directory.
March 22, 2003: Follow-up statements due from participants.
June 22, 2003: Projects due from participants.

Project summary:

This workshop brings together specialists on Islamist movements, specialists on social network analysis, and leading figures in the study of social movements in order to 1) increase communication among these fields and 2) produce a volume of papers co-authored by teams across these specialty areas, tentatively entitled “Networks of Islamist Activism.” For too long the study of Islamist movements has developed separately from streams of work in network analysis and social movement studies, with only occasional glimpses across this divide. Over the past three years, the organizers and other scholars have attempted to bridge the divide through conference panels, small conferences, and informal communications; this project seeks to push these efforts to a more ambitious level, with more intense intellectual engagement among the different fields and the concrete outcome of a published volume. The atrocities of September 11, 2001, have only added to the urgency of this collaboration, as social scientists have recognized the need for greater scholarly attention to Islamist movements.

Project description:

Bridging Fields

This project seeks to bring together scholars in three overlapping fields:

1. Islamist movements. We define this field as the study of movements seeking to “Islamicize” society, either through changing mores and practices or through establishing “Islamic” states via democratic or violent means.

2. Social movement studies. We define this field as the study of collective behavior, organized efforts for social change, revolutions, and contentious politics.

3. Social network analysis. We define this field as the study of the formal properties of interactions among nodes, be they individuals or collectivities.

The field of social movement studies has drawn increasingly in recent years on social network analysis, and the field of Islamist movements has begun to draw on social movement studies. Yet we feel that these three influential fields within sociology have not engaged with one another to the degree that disciplinary progress and current events require. We propose to hold a workshop series that will allow this engagement to occur.

As academics who have pursued the study of Islamist movements for years, we feel a bit queasy justifying our proposal with reference to the atrocities of September 11, 2001, and the global spotlight that it focused on our area of study. To be sure, the topic of “Islamist networks” now has a resonance that it did not have several months ago. But the intellectual justification for this project does not rely on the misdeeds of al-Qa’ida, and is not limited to terrorist networks.

Rather, this project grows out of the recognition, several years in the making, that Islamist movements share “network” features that would benefit from increased cross-talk with social movement theorists and network analysts. This cross-talk has been minimal over the past quarter century, during which time Islamist movements have received significant academic attention. Few of the major works on Islamist movements make any reference to social movement and network analysis, and Islamist cases are under-represented in the social movement and network literature. While the Iranian Revolution figures in some theoretical work in these fields, there has been little recognition of Islamism as the most active transnational social movement of the past two decades.

Beginning in the late 1990s, scholars studying Islamist movements and social movements in general have increasingly sought to generate cross-talk. The organizers have individually or collectively been involved in three such projects: a conference on Islamic movements held at New York University, a book project based in France, and a series of panels organized by the second applicant at the annual meetings of the Middle East Studies Association. This move toward collaboration has come from two directions.

From one side, several specialists on Islamist activism have called for increased theoretical and methodological rigor in the study of this subject. In particular, there is a movement to fully incorporate the study of Islamism in social movement theory debates. Such an approach would avail itself of the rich array of concepts, frameworks, and research traditions from social movement theory. Whereas most publications on Islamist movements assume that a particular set of grievances, translated into religious idioms and symbols, engenders mobilization, various generations of social movement theory and concomitant debates have demonstrated that other factors are inextricably linked to mobilization patterns, including resource availability, framing resonance, and shifts in the political opportunity structure. By engaging social movement theory, social scientists have developed more sophisticated tools of analysis that will aid in the understanding of the dynamics of Islamist contention.

Within this general push toward social movement theory, many Islamic activism specialists believe their unique contribution to theory-building lies in the area of networks. Scholars have shown remarkable adroitness in studying the intricate and complex networks of social life in Muslim societies, and this skill has been extended to the study of Islamist activism. Through interview and ethnographic methodologies, a number of scholars have delineated the structure, dynamics, and consequences of Islamist networks for society and the polity. The result is a growing body of research that details the intricacies of social networks in Islamist contention and broadens our understanding of micro-level processes.

From another side, social movement theorists have increasingly expressed interest in studying non-Western contention. Dominated by empirical research in the United States and Western Europe, social movement theory-building has been historically contextualized by liberal democratic polities and Western societies, thus narrowing the generalizability of findings and conclusions, as leading scholars in the field have noted. The universe of cases expanded during the 1990s to incorporate less open polities and non-Western societies, including Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. Yet, with the exception of the participants in this project, almost the only Islamist movement to gain significant attention in the social movement field has been the Iranian Revolution, which is in many respects unique among Islamist movements (the Shi’i theology, the mosque network, the rapid revolutionary success).

September 11 has broadened this interest. Charles Tilly’s well-known social movement list-server, a cyberspace vehicle for students of contentious politics, including social movement theorists, devoted extensive discussion to al-Qa’ida, struggling to render radical Islamism intelligible within the established frameworks of contentious politics. Given the central role of networks in al-Qa’ida, much of this interest is couched in the language of network theory and analysis.

Though rooted in different research traditions, social movement theory and research on Islamist activism find common interest in the role of social networks. We seek to build on this shared interest by offering opportunities for collaboration that will draw together these areas of inquiry. This endeavor provides a forum for the growing community of scholars interested in synthesizing social movement theory and empirical work on Islamic activism with theories and methodologies of network analysis.

The Workshop Format

The workshop will involve up to 20 participants, half of whom are specialists on Islamist activism who have utilized social movement theory in their work or wish to do so. One quarter of the participants will be social movement theorists selected for their interest in expanding social movement theory to the realm of Islamist activism and their prior work on the role of social networks in contentious politics. This includes social movement theorists who have published on recruitment networks, network mobilization under conditions of repression, networks of shared meaning, and informal institutions. One quarter of the participants will be network theorists selected for their interest in engaging with Islamist movements and their prior work on the theory and methodology of network analysis.

The workshop will provide an opportunity for intensive group immersion in discussions about networks and Islamist activism to explore not only how the analysis of social networks in contentious politics can provide theoretical leverage for research on Islamist groups, but how the study of Islamism can help inform social movement theory as well. By bringing together social movement theorists and specialists on Islamist activism, the workshop facilitates creative engagement from different perspectives to formulate an agenda for research on Islamist networks. The participants will develop statements (one page maximum) to be posted on this web-site with password protection three weeks in advance of the workshop, addressing the following issues:

One-page preliminary statements (click here for statements):
- What do social scientists already know about Islamist networks? A brief list of key references should be included.
- What should social scientists know about Islamist networks (that is, what research is still needed)?
- What might the study of Islamist networks, social movement theory, and network analysis offer one another?
The morning session of the workshop will begin with a discussion of these one-page statements, including patterns, common understandings about the issues, and possible directions of inquiry. The group will then break up into paired teams composed of an Islamic movement specialist and a social movement or network theory specialist, who will brainstorm possible collaborations: jointly authored articles for an edited volume, tentatively titled “Networks of Islamic Activism.” After an hour, the pairs will report back to the whole group for discussion and input. After lunch, the group will again break into pairs to examine possible resources for their proposed collaboration (including literature, data sources, and the like). Each pair will create an outline to present to the entire group (PowerPoint, overheads, or other hardcopy presentations). The late afternoon will be devoted to these presentations and further group discussion. A dinner will be held that evening, possibly with a keynote speaker who will address the relationship between the social sciences and Islamic studies. See initial Project Summaries in password-protected directory.

Toward a Finished Product

The structure is intended to create a collaborative atmosphere where the pairs can draw upon the expertise, insights, and suggestions of all the workshop participants.  As pairs work on their research and papers, the password-protected web site and a list-serve can be used as fora to discuss ongoing work, seek advice from others, and communicate other related concerns.

In order to maintain momentum, the pairs will issue a one-page progress report and timetable to the group, in electronic format, one month after the workshop (March 22). Drafts of the pairs' chapters will be due two months after that date (June 22). The idea is to move as efficiently as possible from brainstorming to a finished product, that is, the edited volume. Through these relationships and the edited book, the impact of the collaboration will reach diverse audiences and encourage new, more effective, approaches to the study of Islamism that combine theoretical and methodological sophistication with deep empirical understanding and experience. We believe that this project is an important step toward more rigorous understandings about Islamic activism, something which is particularly important given the superficial treatment of the topic by the press and others since September 11, 2001.

Confirmed participants:

Jon Anderson Anthropology, Catholic University New media networks in the Middle East and elsewhere
Janine Clark Political Science, Guelph University Islamist movements in Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen
Kathleen Carley Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University Network analysis
Jeff Goodwin Sociology, New York University Sociology of revolutions
Mohammed Hafez Political Science, University of Missouri, Kansas City Islamist movements in Algeria and elsewehre
Dave Knoke Sociology, University of Minnesota Network analysis
Charles Kurzman Sociology, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Islamist movements in Iran and elsewhere
Paul Lubeck Sociology, University of California-Santa Cruz Islamist movements in northern Nigeria and elsewhere
Ann Mische Sociology, Rutgers University Network analysis of social movements in Brazil
Glenn Robinson Political Science, Naval Postgraduate School Islamist movements in Palestine and Jordan
Maryjane Osa Sociology, Northwestern University Social movements
Jillian Schwedler Political Science, University of Maryland-College Park Islamist movements in Jordan and elsewhere
Diane Singerman Political Science, American University Islamist movements in Egypt and elsewhere
Sarah Soule Sociology, University of Arizona Social movements
Doug White Anthropology, University of California-Irvine Network analysis
Quintan Wiktorowicz Political Science, Rhodes College Islamist movements in Jordan, U.K., and elsewhere

This page was last updated February 25, 2002.