2008 DPDF Research Field:
Muslim Modernities

Research Directors: Charles Kurzman and Bruce B. Lawrence

Islamic fundamentalists and Western Orientalists often emphasize pre-modern resonances in contemporary Muslim communities. Over the past generation, by contrast, an interdisciplinary set of scholars has come to emphasize the ways in which Islamic historical heritages are extruded, redefined, or invented through modern processes. We label this emerging field “Muslim Modernities.”

The idea of modernity was invented in Western Europe to distinguish the region from the rest of the world, including Muslim societies. Scholars disagreed about what modernity consisted of — capitalism, division of labor, rationalization, reflexivity, etc. — but broadly agreed that these were characteristics of the West and not of other societies. Increasingly, however, the study of Muslim communities has contributed to a re-thinking of the West’s monopolistic claims to modernity. Instead of measuring modernization as the adoption of Western institutions and norms, these studies have explored the development of alternative forms of modernity. These alternative forms are modern in three potentially distinct ways: their proponents claim that they are modern; they are recent, not found in “tradition,” though sometimes imposed retroactively on tradition; and they exhibit characteristics frequently associated with Western modernity, such as universalism, rationalization, and reflexivity.

Prominent approaches to the concept of multiple modernities include, but are not limited to, the study of Islamic and other fundamentalisms; the formation of religious subjectivities; the conditions of post-coloniality; the operations of disciplinary power; the construction of communal, national, regional, and gender identities; discourses of democracy and rights; migration and post-migration; and global markets and responses to them. In each of these areas, Muslim modernities provide a counterpoint to analyses that view contemporary Muslim societies through the prism of premodern recrudescences.

We invite students from throughout the humanities and social sciences to consider participation in this workshop if their research plans include Muslim communities anywhere in the world, including Europe and North America. Special preference will be given to projects that consider interconnections across regional and communal boundaries. The workshop is open to a variety of methodologies, from ethnography and interviews to textual, archival, and data analyses. As Islamist movements and the global war on terror have moved the study of Muslim societies closer to the center of academic debates, the workshop will encourage a new generation of scholars with language skills and fieldwork experience to break out of the area studies ghetto, paying particular attention to the interplay between place-based empirical research and discipline-based intellectual questions about modern processes and institutions.


Students in the humanities and social sciences undertaking doctoral dissertation research may apply for one of the five annual research fields named. Full descriptions of these fields may be found on this site. The program is designed for second and third year students who have not yet had their dissertation proposals approved by their thesis directors and their home institutions. Only in exceptional circumstances will the DPDF entertain fellowship applications from first-year students (such as those with an M.A. in a related field) or from fourth year students (unless compelling reasons can be made about why the students have not yet completed their dissertation proposals for approval by their home departments). Students who have completed their comprehensive/general/qualifying exams are eligible as long as they have not had their dissertation proposal formally approved by their department.

Fellows are required to be present and participate in both workshops, the dates for which are announced before the opening of the annual application cycle.

2008 Cycle:
Spring Workshop: May 29 – June 1, 2008, in Saint Louis, MO.
Fall Workshop: September 11-14, 2008, in Milwaukee, WI.

If you have applied this year or in previous years for SSRC’s IDRF program, or for any major funding grant for dissertation research, you are not eligible for a DPDF. If you have already received funding and have completed predissertation research before applying, you will not be eligible for a DPDF.

For more information visit the website at http://programs.ssrc.org/dpdf/muslimmodernities/.