Religious authority in Islam has been among the most fiercely contested phenomena among Muslims in both Muslim–minority and –majority societies. Despite its significant implications for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, implications that range from the ability to perform mundane activities to embracing radicalized positions, this subject has also been among the least studied in the West and has proven particularly baffling for outside observers and for policy makers.
In this initiative, through local, national and international collaborative work, we analyze the causes, spectra and consequences of the plurality of authority in Islam in South Asia and create a novel, comprehensive, multi-lingual and global-reaching analytical framework to study this question. We assess the landscape of diverse Muslim authorities, identify types of authorities (institutional, communal, personal), their sources of legitimation, their modes of transmission (textual, scriptural, aural, visual, interactive), their connections to external (regional, national, global) centers or models of religiosity; as well as their relations with the state and among different dimensions or practitioners of authority. Among other goals, we aim to a.) Historicize debates about religious authority in Islam and move away from misleading and artificial demarcations; b.) Distinguish the reality of decentralized and multivalent authority from the appearance of fragmentation that globalization and modernity seem to amplify; c.) Critically examine the popular view among scholars and policy makers that takes as given state monopoly over the definition and exercise of religious authority and that also understands the plurality of religious authority to be an expression of opposition to the state and its servants.
The Delhi workshop is a part of IU’s broader research project on Authority in Islam.