This lecture deals with Islam and the Middle East as scientific problems. How to study the modern Muslim world? How to address Islam in scholarly terms? In which ways can so-called Western social theory contribute to Islamic studies? To a certain extent, social theory and Islamic and Middle East studies still have a tendency to reinforce ideas of an, in principle, mutual exclusiveness between Western and Islamic forms of modernity. As Soares and Ossella showed in a critical review of the literature, instead of being an intrinsic part of global modernity, Muslims are often presented as “conscripts of Western modernity,” as being engaged with modernity as an external force colonizing their lives.
In contrast to this discourse of difference, this lecture wants to emphasize similarities between Western and Muslim modern social experiences. Drawing from findings of the Modern Muslim Subjectivity Project that has been conducted at the Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies at SDU since 2013, it wants to show the scholarly relevance of “Western” analytical concepts in Islamic contexts. In the framework of this larger research project, the conceptual tools of social theory serve as the heuristic standard of a sociology of modernity against which we can interpret observable historical differences as the results of contingent paths of social development. Consequently, the lecture argues to consider the formation of modern Muslim subjectivities to be an inherent part of global modernity.