As far as the interwoven intellectual and socio-political developments in the Muslim world, particularly, in contemporary Middle East and West Asia, are concerned, there have been streams of intellectual dialogues and sets of socio-political exchanges in progress between Muslim societies on the one side and the globalising modernity on the other. With this in mind, my research, after completing my PhD and postdoctoral research, has constituted a threefold programme addressing the following focal question.
“How has the ongoing dialogue between the Muslim heritage of scholarship and the modern humanities and social sciences been influencing and influenced by the simultaneous socio-political exchanges between Muslim societies and the globalising modernity?”
I have approached this focal and life-long question from three points of departure: firstly, epistemological and methodological foundations; secondly, critiquing the normative and politico-philosophical facets of the globalising modernity; and thirdly, critiquing the Muslim heritage of political, legal and social thought. However, I tried to make these three trajectories of research converge in a multidisciplinary way.
At the most fundamental level, I studied diverse forms of monism and pluralism to establish a more reliable epistemological and methodological ground for embarking upon the two other fields of studies. I have given several lectures and taught courses on this topic, particularly in my MA courses on methodology. In addition, I developed several papers and co-authored a book entitled Monism or Pluralism? on this topic differentiating between pluralism and relativism on the one hand, and distinguishing disguised and hidden monism from pluralism on the other. In chapter eight of Religion, International Relations and Development Cooperation that appeared in 2007, as a contributor, I tried to elaborate on the implications of holding a critical pluralist attitude for studying the relationship between Muslim cultures and modern issues and questions like democracy and human rights. Among other contributors to the book were Abdullahi A. An-Na`im, Peter L. Berger, Riffat Hassan, Thomas Pogge, Jonathan Fox and Scott M. Thomas.
Critiquing the normative and political facets of the globalising modernity has been a core component of my research projects during the past three years, particularly during my stay at University College London (UCL) and the University of Amsterdam (UvA) from 2008 onwards. Drawing on the outcomes of the previous stage, I tried to understand how human rights and democracy, their mechanisms, politics, institutions and instruments have been conceived of by different scholars and intellectuals in the Muslim world. I tried to understand critically how human rights promotion policies and democratisation projects have backfired in the region due to uncritical understanding of human rights and democracy underlying them. Nowadays, I am trying to propose an alternative way of thinking about the dynamics of change in the region drawing on the “politics of small things” and the theories of democratisation from within. My research will appear as two papers in academic journals and contributions to two upcoming books. Drawing on this phase of my research, I am finalising also a Persian course book on human rights.
The critique of Muslim culture and heritage of scholarship constitutes the third facet of my research programme. My MA thesis, PhD dissertation and postdoctoral research were parts of this dimension of my grand research programme. In my MA thesis, I examined the idea of the Islamisation of knowledge and its critical weaknesses. In my PhD dissertation, I criticised the ideologised and politicised Shiite classical theory of authority in the works of Ayatollah Khomeini. I tried to trace back the roots of this form of politicised Shiite Islam in an unusual marriage of classical legal thought with the modern way of ideological political leadership. My postdoctoral research at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Studies) gave me the opportunity of working with late Nasr-Hamid Abu-Zayd, a preeminent professor of Islamic Studies and an Egyptian intellectual, on the parallel streams of politicisation of the interpretations of the holy texts among Jews, Christians and Muslims. I developed chapters of an English course book entitled Authority in Shiite Islam during my research leave in London. In addition to this, I published a number of papers criticising the theory of education in the context of politicised Islam in Iran.
Mohammad Mahdi Mojahedi is a Visiting Fellow at CRASSH, Lent 2011.