Aktuelle Forschungsprojekte

Atheism & The Politics of Culture in Contemporary Turkey [Stiftung Mercator]

A project by the Centre for Near and Middle Eastern Studies (CNMS) at Philipps University of Marburg in cooperation with the Department of Sociology at Bahçeşehir University in Istanbul. This project is part of the program "Blickwechsel: Contemporary Turkey Studies", funded by Stiftung Mercator.

Coordinator: Pierre Hecker

Project Website

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    The purpose of this research project is to investigate contemporary discourses on atheism in Turkey. In doing so, it will no only produce a detailed overview of the situation of Turkish atheists, but,moreover, will retrieve information on the present human rightssituation in Turkey, particular with regard to the freedom of belief and conscience and the freedom of and from religion. Atheism in the Islamic world is still a widely neglected issue in academia. Consequently, this research will provide an important piece to the jigsaw of global atheism and hopefully help to encourage further research on atheism in the Islamic world.

    The issue of atheism in Turkey must be seen as embedded into a wider (counter)hegemonic discourse on the politics of culture. Political power in modern, capitalist societies, as outlined by Antonio Gramsci in his famous Prison Notebooks, works through consensus more than force. Consensus, however, is based on the ruling elite's ability to obtain cultural hegemony and to establish its world view as the commonly accepted norm.

    Accordingly, culture must be seen as a site of ideological struggle and a terrain of containment and resistance, in which different world views and ways of life compete with each other. From this perspective, the question of how a person lives—or, more particularly, how a person displays his or her way of life publicly—can easily turn into an ideological power struggle, resulting in the stigmatization of the ideological ‘Other.’ Lifestyle presence, in this sense, can be an efficient means to lay claim to public space and to demand or contest political power. The issue of atheism will be investigated from this perspective. On a related note, this project aims to bring together researchers from different academic fields who are interested in engaging in critical discussion on the politics of culture in contemporary Turkey.

    The present study approaches the issue of atheism from different angles. In a first step, qualitative expert interviews will be conducted with representatives from Ateizm Derneği ('Atheism Association'), Turkey's first representative body of atheists, and Ateist Dergi ('Atheist Journal'), a monthly magazine which considers itself as a platform for the dissemination of non-theistic, humanist, and secularist thought and ideas. This focus on atheist actors in the first place aims at mapping Turkey's 'atheist field,' and, moreover, at gaining an overview of the legal and political situation of Turkish atheists, their needs and demands, their organizational structures, and their tactics for visibility in the public sphere. The latter directly leads to the question of (counter)hegemonic discourses in regard to Turkey's presently dominant culture of religious conservatism.

    In a second phase, the 'atheist field' will be further explored by conducting biographical interviews with Turkish atheists. Drawing on biographical experiences will not only help to learn more about how individuals are being socialized into atheist thought, but also to study the politics of everyday life as related to the presence of atheist lifestyle practices. Studying the individual experiences of the 'deviant (atheist) other' will enable the researchers to identify the mechanisms of social pressure and dominance ('mahalle baskısı') and to better understand how atheist lifestyle practices pose a challenge to the dominant culture of religious conservatism. In order to obtain a comprehensive picture of the (counter)hegemonic discourses on atheism, it will be also necessary to study the content and discussion of selected social media sites on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Finally, the present study will also investigate a set of cultural representations of atheism and anti-religious lifestyle practices in the fields of visual and musical arts. For the purpose of publicly displaying the politics of culture in contemporary Turkey, an art exhibition on “Turkish Deviant Art” will be organized in the summer of 2018.

    This project is part of the program "Blickwechsel: Contemporary Turkey Studies", funded by Stiftung Mercator. You can read the project description also in Turkish and German.

Transottomanica: Eastern European-Ottoman-Persian Mobility Dynamics [DFG]

Transottomanica is a priority programme (Schwerpunktprogramm) funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). In it 15 single research projects as well as a number of associated projects that are located at 13 universities and research institutions in Germany collaborate. In its first phase, the programme will run for three years from 2017-2020. The programme explores “transottoman” ties and communication practices which emerged as a consequence of mobility between the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Poland-Lithuania and Persia from the 16th to the early 20th century.

Coordinator: Albrecht Fuess

Project Website

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    Social and (trans)cultural ties between the Moscovite Tsardom and/or Petersburg Empire, Poland-Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire and Persia from the early modern period to the beginning of the twentieth century have so far not been the subject of systematic historical study. The historical societies of the above-mentioned regions developed relationships that evolved and interconnected over centuries. In the priority programme, we shall focus on the “trans-Ottoman” ties and communication practices which emerged as a consequence of mobility between these dominions and which until now have not been apparent in studies of individual regions or bilateral relations.

    This approach promises to change our understanding of globalised European and Asian history in a transcontinental context. Instead of constructing “one” new region, our “post-area studies” approach allows us to focus on several, different contexts and fields of social interaction with different spatial and social ranges unified by the lens of mobility: Reciprocal processes of migration, knowledge circulation (travelling concepts), travel, trade and mobility of entire societies between Muscovy and then the tsarist empire, Poland-Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire and Persia will be in our focus. Since we are exploring undiscovered terrain in the research for our project, we shall first carry out basic research which shall cast more light in the thicket of our planned research approaches. On the basis of the research findings of the initial phase, suitable methodical tools for a new theory design shall be developed for a possible second subsequent phase that shall take into account the specific requirements of our research subject.

    The investigation period of the priority programme shall begin in the early 16th century, when the Ottoman Empire developed into a cross-regional hub due to the expansion into northern and eastern Africa, the conquests in East Central Europe and to the extension of power into the Near and Middle East. During the course of the 19th century, however, this area was integrated into altered and/or new areas of communication and action because the major European powers were increasingly able expand their political and economic influence. Due to its mobility dynamics and structures, the trans-Ottoman spatial configuration lost significance and merged into increasing global and nationalised contexts. The priority programme shall investigate these transitions until the beginning of the 20th century.

Mediating Islam in the Digital Age [Horizon2020]

The MIDA project is part of the European union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant. An international consortium of research institutes, universities and non-academic partners in six European countries will conduct research in the next four years and address a broad spectrum of issues related to the general theme. MIDA is coordinated by the ‘Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique’ (CNRS) in Paris. The consortium involves twelve academic institutions and thirteen partner organisations. The German academic institutions involved are Philipps-Universität Marburg, GIGA Hamburg and FU Berlin.

Work Package Training: Albrecht Fuess and Maike Neufend

Project Website

You can find us on Facebook: @ITN-Mida, Twitter: @ItnMida and Instagram: itn_mida

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    MIDA aims to train 15 creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative researchers in social and human sciences through an interdisciplinary research programme, whose main objectives are to understand the tremendous influence that digitisation and technological innovations have on Islam. The MIDA project is resolutely inter-sectorial, interdisciplinary and international.

    Understanding how a religion appears or transmutes is one of the ultimate challenges in history. MIDA project’s hypothesis is that we are witnessing a radical change in Islam. Indeed, the MIDA project rests on the premise that digitisation and technological innovation are having a tremendous influence on Islam that deserves to be studied from a variety of perspectives: on modes of expression and communication of religious messages and traditions, and on modes of engagement with society. The rapid changes that are already occurring are generating a sense of loss of control and instability among the general public, politicians, journalists, academics, and, not least, among Muslims themselves. Consequently, they have shaken up Islam as a field of academic study and have impacted on the ways Islam is to be studied in the future. Last but not least, Islam is no longer a regional phenomenon; it is a European and even a global one.

    The sudden rise of hitherto relatively marginal theological and ideological trends and movements, the rapid transformation of Islam in the public sphere, and the emergence of Islam as a brand through the rapid dissemination of public images and imaginaries, contribute to the ‘super visibility’ of Islam. The high impact of many current Islam-related events, should be considered as an effect of digitisation in the context of globalisation.

    Digitisation and the concurrent innovations of the past few decades belong to the list of such fundamental technological transformations in human history as the invention of paper, printing technology, steam power, electricity and telecommunication, which constituted major upheavals.

    The specificity of the current revolution calls for a re-evaluation of past situations and reflection on future prospects. The rapid spread of modern digital media and new technologies of production and dissemination prompts researchers and social actors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to make sense of and of and understand these developments. Engagement with these changes requires specific skills and approaches. Although the digitisation of Islam has been addressed for quite some time by scholars of various disciplinary backgrounds, research agendas are still fragmented and ad hoc.

    The overall aim of the project is to draw a complex picture of the ceaselessly repeated invention of new traditions, as a new means of expressing the sense of belonging to Islam (identity, community, political, social and religious practices, beliefs and representations), including the question of individual (male and female) or collective identities (WP1), the birth of new languages with the emergence of new media (WP2), the appropriation, transmission and invention of new objects and arts, with the corresponding representations (WP3), the question of authority and knowledge, contested as it is nowadays (WP4), in a world where mobility and mobilisation are possible in an unprecedented way (WP5). This will contribute new knowledge on the mechanisms underpinning the social and political transformation of societies, in the Muslim commonwealth and in the world, which will be used for the political and social benefit of the EU. It will raise public awareness of human sciences and their uses by institutions.

EGYLandscape Project: Exploring Egypt's Landscapes During the 13th-18th Centuries [ANR-DFG]

The project is coordinated by Nicolas Michel on the French side (Aix-Marseille Université) and Albrecht Fuess on the German side (Philipps-Universität Marburg). With additional team members at twenty-one universities and institutes in six different countries, the project will seek online cooperation through digital fora, discussions, webinars, and working papers as well as by hosting three workshops and a conference. In addition to regularly published working papers, EGYLandscape will produce a mid-project journal issue (2020/21) and a final volume (2022/23).

Project Coordinators: Muhammad Shaaban and Anthony Quickel

Project Lead in Marburg: Albrecht Fuess

Project Website

You can find us on Facebook: @EGYLandscapeProject and Twitter: @EGYLandscape

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    The EGYLandscape project is a new ANR-DFG-funded research project that explores the landscapes of Egypt during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods (13th-18th centuries). This broad topic includes the study of Mamluk and Ottoman Egypt’s agriculture, land use and tenure, biology (plants and animals), climatology, hydraulic systems, demography, and more! Using archeological, digital, and textual methodologies, EGYLandscape will bring together a team of researchers and scholars from a variety of backgrounds to collaborate on the issues at hand.

    In the short term, the project will be hosting two panels and a workshop in 2019. Our first panel will be at this year’s Mamluk Studies School in Tokyo, entitled: “Irrigation, Landscapes, and Environment: Towards a History of Mamluk Agriculture.” In September, the EGYLandscape Project will kick-off its first workshop with a project workshop in Marburg. This workshop will give participants a chance to introduce their research projects and plans and get to know the team and our framework. Finally, the project will present a second panel at this year’s MESA annual meeting in New Orleans: “The Egyptian Landscape: New Insights on Agrarian and Rural Trends in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Periods.”

Yousef Jameel Scholarship Fund Programm

In diesem Programm werden Promotionsstipendien für exzellente Naturwissenschaftler/innen und Wirtschaftswissenschaftler/innen sowie Erziehungswissenschaftler/innen aus Ländern des arabischen Raumes vergeben. Die Förderung des wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchses ist eines der erklärten Ziele der Philipps-Universität Marburg. Die Philipps-Universität Marburg ist Partner des Yousef Jameel Scholarship Funds und vergibt in diesem Rahmen Stipendien für Promotionen in den naturwissenschaftlichen Fächern, den Wirtschafts-, sowie den Erziehungswissenschaften. Wir freuen uns über zwei Promotionsstipendiat/innen am Fachgebiet Islamwissenschaft.


Hala Ghoname: Orientalists’ Portraits of Muḥammad ‘Alī Bāshā Between Historical Documentation, Politics, and Edward Saeed’s Paradigm of Orientalism.

Ahmed Sheir: The Legend of Prester John and its Political Implications on the Conflict between the Muslim East and Latin West (12th -16th centuries).

Abgeschlossene Forschungsprojekte

  • Dynamics of Transmission (DYNTRAN) [ANR-DFG]

    DYNTRAN (Dynamics of Transmission: Families, Authority and Knowledge in the Early Modern Middle East, 15th-17th Centuries) is a three year bi-national project (2015-2018). It aims to bring together the distinctive traditions of the French and German schools in the field: the historically oriented Islamic studies in Germany vis-à-vis the multi-disciplinary field of historians, art historians, and religious studies experts from France.

    PHD Project: Anthony Quickel „Book ownership patterns among Ottoman Cairo’s merchant families“

    Coordinators in Marburg: Albrecht Fuess and Christoph Werner

    Project Website

    Family history has become one of the most stimulating fields in Middle Eastern studies in the last two decades. The present project inscribes itself into this recent tradition and proposes to advance its agenda in several directions.

    First, it moves into the early modern period, covering a time frame from the 15th to the 17th century where the historical role of families remains understudied and continues to be very regionally or socially focused.

    Secondly, it sets out to bridge the increasing gap that exists in scholarship on the Middle East between the Persianate world and the Arab lands under Mamluk and early Ottoman rule. Geographical mobility and contact areas thus deserve our special attention.

    Finally, it applies the overarching concept of transmission to family history and sets out to locate dynamics of transmitting authority and knowledge inside family structures, both synchronic and diachronic. What is actually passed on can be of a very diverse nature: it might be mystical knowledge and spiritual authority, it might be military know-how and prowess inside amir families, or it might take the shape of political or administrative power inside constructed families or kin groups. Equally, we have to think of scribal, literary and artistic traditions which are transmitted within families of scholars and savants. They can be traced along real objects and be considered as symbolic and real manifestations of legitimacy, status, and power.

    Processes of transmission, thus our hypothesis, are shaped by dynamics internal and external to them. Internal with regard to the actual composition of families, external with regard to geographical, temporal and cultural factors such as tribal formations, territorial alignments, economical resources, as well as religious or ideological change. A wide range of sources is at our disposal, including archival material as well as biographical dictionaries, historical narratives and material artifacts. As we try to define the idea of “family” and the protagonists behind it, we aim to provide a better understanding of the role of families and kinship groups in Islamicate cultures before the advent of modernity.


    The project will analyze the transmission of knowledge, especially along networks conceptualized in terms of «families». Special attention will be given to the nature and conceptualization of knowledge and authority and the limits and functions of such “family-type” networks.

    Since the opening of the project in June 2015, the following issues have already received a particular attention:

    •     Strategies of transmission

    •     Forms of authority in social context

    •     The role of “family-type” networks as carriers of knowledge and authority

    For the work-in-progress, see the first publications and the DYNTRAN Working Papers