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Fellow Seminar

27 February 2020

Prof. Simeon Evstatiev will present his research proposal on the topic: "From the Middle East to the Balkans: Salafism and the Muslim Quest for Certainty" on 27 February 2020 (Thursday) at 16:30h at CAS conference hall.

Abstract:

My project approaches Salafism as a complex transnational Islamic movement that evokes shared normative religious texts and paradigmatic historical antecedents in specific theological, legal and political terms. Foregrounding certainty as a key factor making Salafism particularly attractive among part of the Sunni Muslims, my research compares entangled Muslim groups in the Middle East and the Balkans synchronically and diachronically. The study focuses on Salafism vis-à-vis strict Hanafism in interrelated contemporary and historical contexts included in former provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

Is there a historical continuity between the Salafi type of adherence to Islam and the historical experience of certain local communities dating back to the Ottoman centuries when "Salafi-minded" scholars and groups were taking charge of their faith in a similar way? What makes a Muslim choose precisely Salafism over other, no less rigorous religious alternatives such as strict Hanafism? Why is Salafism in context outside the Middle East perceived as an "alien" and "new" type of religious adherence that clashes with what is often described as "traditional Islam"?

The research tackles such questions by combining history and anthropology. It aims to reveal shared Salafī narratives spread in the Balkans by exploring common ideas, practices and sources of inspiration, references, historical antecedents and entanglements with the Middle East. In so doing, I seek to delineate a longue durée of convergent revivalist patterns in Muslim thought and practice dating back from the sixteenth Ottoman century by amplifying the seventeenth-century exemplar of the Qādīzādeli movement (1720s-1780s) often perceived as "Salafi-minded". By integrating the revealed Salafī patterns vis-à-vis strict Hanafism into the large of Islamic history, theology and law, the study draws on a wide range of evidence, published and unpublished sources in Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, and Slavic languages: general and local histories, as well as biographical literature and dictionaries. These sources thus encompass Salafi, Hanafi and other textual and ethnographic evidence.

Simeon Evstatiev is Professor of Middle Eastern History and Islamic Studies at Sofia University's Department of Arabic and Semitic Studies where he is currently the Department Chair. At Sofia University, he is also Director of the Graduate Program in Middle East Studies as well as Head of the Center for the Study of Religion. He holds a PhD in Middle Eastern and Islamic History. More recently, he has been a one-year Visiting Professor at the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, History Department, Princeton University (2013-2014). As Gerda Henkel Fellow (2016-2019), Simeon Evstatiev was a 2016-2017 Research Associate at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin. His studies have appeared in books and journals by Cambridge University Press, Brill, Peeters, Ergon, Springer, De Gruyter, and among the Bulgarian publishers by Iztok-Zapad and St. Kliment Ohridski University Press. His publications include the monographs Religion and Politics in the Arab World: Islam in Society (2012) and Salafism in the Middle East and the Boundaries of Faith (2018). These publications deal with various aspects of classical and modern Islamic history, such as religion and boundaries, Salafism, Islamic scholarly tradition and religious authority, Islam in Bulgaria and the Balkans, as well as with political, social, and intellectual tensions arising from questions of religious identity.

 

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