My current project for the third book/habilitation aims at writing a global history of the Iranian Revolution of 1978/79. My goal is to understand when and how the revolution turned from being perceived as an event with universal aspirations to a narrow, sectarian Shi’i project. As in the 1789 French and 1917 Russian revolutions, the political change in Iran promised to reshape the world in its own image. The popular uprising that toppled the Shah fascinated and inspired global audiences. My research project attempts at capturing and explaining this crucial moment in world history.
For her admirers, Iran decisively proved that the establishment of a modern Islamic state that combined parallel republican and religious structures was possible. Anti-imperialism and non-alignment seemed like common-sense answers in the midst of the Cold War and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Messages emanating from Iran managed to cross sectarian and even religious divides. Mandatory veiling and the quick unraveling of secular family laws sent a powerful message of how an Islamist state could be constructed. I intend to show how Khomeini’s Revolution caused nothing less than a paradigm shift in global Islamism by focusing in particular on non-Shi‘i actors (such as Tunisian students or Lebanese Maoists) in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia and how they tried to make sense of the Revolution during the 1980s.
The project is supported by a major grant from the Gerda Henkel Foundation. This funding of €18.600 has made it possible for me to conduct research in 2018 and 2019 in the US, Lebanon, Tunisia, Pakistan, India, Iran, and the Netherlands.
Building on my previous interests, I continue to work and publish on various aspects of Shi’i Islam and sectarianism. I am also becoming more and more interested in the question of “Islamic Socialism”. Additionally, there is a further, long-term project in the works which tries to make sense of the diverging fate of the Islamic schools of law in South Asia and the Middle East over the last 150 years. While school identities remain strong in the Subcontinent, this system has been seriously challenged in the Arab world in particular. A crucial, underlying question in this context is to solve the puzzle why there are only so few Salafis in present-day India and Pakistan.