Reimagining Islam: Salafi Networks in Muslim Southeast Asia

  • Woodward, Mark (PI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project combines historical and ethnographic methods in a study of Salafi movements and networks in Muslim Southeast Asia. Salafism, a revivalist current in Sunni Islam dating to the 13th century, seeks to establish a vision of the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions as religious, social and in many instances, political reality. It has often been described as fundamentalism. Salafism has had an enormous impact on Muslim discourse and politics since the early 20th century and has inspired diverse movements including al Qaeda, Islamic political parties and civil society groups and small communities living pious lives in self-imposed isolation. Salafism has deep historical roots in Southeast Asia. Despite its size, global significance and the intellectual productivity of its Muslim thinkers, this region has attracted limited attention from humanities scholars concerned with contemporary Islamic thought and movements. Research will be conducted in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Southern Thailand and Saudi Arabia. Primary sources to be considered include books and periodicals in Indonesian, Malay and Arabic. These will include works on theology, ritual, social and political topics written for general audiences and those used in Salafi educational institutions, and will include on-line as well as print publications. Research in Saudi Arabia is crucial for determining the impact of heavily financed efforts to promote the official politically-quietist Saudi form of Salafism known as Wahhabism, as well as alternative activist forms of Islam current in Saudi universities, on Southeast Asian communities. The proposed project grows out of three years of research on Islamic social movements and political parties in the region and will lead to the first book length study of Salafism in Southeast Asia. Unlike existing scholarship, this volume will focus on networks and interpretative traditions that transcend the borders of colonial and post-colonial states. It will also contribute to the deconstruction of Middle East and Arab centrism in Islamic studies. Through its focus on Southeast Asia, and its emphasis on regional and inter-regional dynamics and networks, it will provide a critical alternative to approaches assuming the Middle East to be the source of intellectual and social development in the Muslim world. This approach, and the combination of historical and ethnographic methods it presumes, will contribute to the development of interpretive frames for humanities scholarship applicable across regions and religious traditions. It also has great potential to influence scholarship in the social sciences. Viewing global religious movements as multi-centered networks instead of center-periphery dichotomies will allow for more nuanced analysis of the interrelation of global, regional and local discourse systems. The project will focus on contemporary Salafi discourse and movements, including analysis of their roots in late 19th and early 20th century networks. Research topics will include the ways in which colonialism, nationalism, modernization, post-coloniality and globalization have affected the development of local Salafi teachings, organizations and modes religious practice. We will be especially concerned with the ways in which divergent interpretation of Salafi teachings lead individuals and groups to alternatively reform or reject local cultural practices. These same factors contribute to the theoretical significance of the project, locating it at the intersection of anthropology, history, religious studies, and qualitative political science.
Effective start/end date1/1/1312/31/17


  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): $285,000.00


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