Projects – University of Copenhagen

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The New Islamic Public Sphere Programme > Projects

Projects  


Ideology and Mass Media in the Arab 20th Century: Clues to the Decline of Secularism and the Ascent of Islamism

If we want to understand why Islamism has become a dominant force in Arab societies over the last forty years, we also need to pay attention to the relative decline of secular ideas in the same period. This research project investigates the role of cultural industries and mass media in particular in shaping ideological transformations in the Arab Middle East from 1967 to today. It posits that since ideology is mediated knowledge, mass media and the changing conditions for production and consumption of public culture should be central to the study of ideology. Through media histories of particular newspapers, magazines and TV channels, the projects investigates, first, what role media played in transforming the cultural crisis and ideological vacuum following the 1967-war into the Islamist movement that characterised the 1970s and 1980s. How did Arab states' virulent restriction and control of political groups and media influence counter-hegemonic ideologies? Has the arrival of a liberalised and transnational media scene since the 1990s facilitated the spread of Islamic norms and ideas in Arab societies? Or is what we are seeing more a continuation of Islamic countercultural production from the 1970s onwards which has now taken hold in the mainstream? Which strategies have secular elites - the traditional custodians of secular modernity - adopted to defend their turf in the cultural field? How have audiences responded? What has Saudi Arabia's ownership of many transnational Arab media meant for the ability of Islamist ideas to challenge the secular establishment across the region - and what has the Saudification meant for the ideological battles within Islamic groups?


Dr Sune Haugbolle has written on the politics and culture of war memory in Lebanon. Much of his work has dealt with the role mass media and public culture play in transforming political debates in Lebanon, Syria, and the wider Arab world. He is editor of The Politics of Violence, Truth and Reconciliation in the Arab Middle East (Routledge, 2009).

 

The enhanced role of ulama in contemporary Arab television

The program formats involving ulama have expanded considerably in the age of satellite TV. While formerly ulama would be preaching and talking to audiences from a "pulpit", today they may be engaged in heated debates, or leading characters in TV drama. Research will focus on
i. ulama stardom. In particular that of Yusuf al-Qaradawi who will be the subject of an edited book.
ii. Ulama as characters in TV-serials (musalsalat)
iii. The new mediated uses of the khutba (sermon).

The emergence of the modern Islamic public sphere: a portrait of Rashid Rida.

As the intellectual executor of Muhammad Abduh's modernist project, and as the direct inspirator of Hassan al-Banna, Rida looms large in the history of 20th century Islamic thought. Arguably the most influential publicist of the first half of the 20th century, Rashid Rida (1865-1965) forms a convenient point of departure for the whole program. This study seeks to identify styles and arguments in his publication al-Manar which have later become popularized and plagiarized in printed media, and today form the background of much debate on Islam, also on TV.


Dr Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen has done research on contemporary Islamic legal thinking, Islamism, and the community of Muslim scholars (al-ulama) in the 20th century, principally in Egypt. Much of this had a media dimension. In his book "Defining Islam for the Egyptian State", he discussed the impact of print and a new reading public on the classical juridical genre of the fatwa.

 

Notions of ‘the public sphere' in Turkey

In the past decades Turkey has witnessed a quantitative and qualitative transformation of media. Not least the liberalization of the media from the early 1990ies onwords and the subsequent emergence of innumerous so-called new media, such as satellite TV channels, have profoundly changed Turkish media. Many have pointed out how Tukish media have increasingly become entertainment focused. Indeed, the new channels are filled with game shows, celebrity programmes, talk shows, reality shows, and endless TV series. Even TV news has been heavily influenced by these changes in mode of presentation as well as content. Equally many, though, have also pointed out how the liberalization of media, despite difficulties relating to ownership structure, media access and continued state regulation of broadcasting has sustained the simultaneous political liberalization in Turkey. More voices and opinions - be they pro-islamic, Kurdish or other - have been able to address various audiences and the number and kinds of issues which can be debated in public have increased dramatically.

As more and more variously positioned political-ideological actors have been able to address particular publics, it has however simultaneosly become clear that these actors hold various opinions as to just what 'the public sphere' is. Where some see it as a space, where opinions long suppressed by the Turkish state can finally be articulated and circulated, others hold that 'the public sphere' should be a place for educating and informing the Turkish public. These varying opinions of just what 'the public sphere' is reflect some of the major ideological cleavages and political faultlines in Turkey today, not least between the statist elite and various socio-political forces such as those who argue in favor of room for more multiculturalism and multireligiousness in Turkey, but also between the large media owners and those who see themselves as fighting against the ownership structures and commercialization of Turkish media.

The project investigates the various ways of defining 'the public sphere' and how these notions are shaped. The project is part of a larger on-going research interest with political culture in Turkey, and can be seen as an extension of a completed PhD project that dealt with notions of 'civil society' in Turkey and how these are produced.

Dr. Daniella Kuzmanovic has a PhD and MA in social anthropology. Her research activities have all been concerned with Turkey. Her current research interest is political culture. Her PhD deals with perceptions of civil society in Turkey and how these are produced.

 

The Muslim and Arab audience responses to new programming at Arab Television

The main objective for the research project is to examine how the television functions as a vehicle for the new Islamic public and the Arab population's engagement in Islamism and anti-Islamism. The overall objective is to gain more knowledge of the Arab and Muslim audience and its identification with or rejection of Islam and Islamism respectively. To accomplish this scope it is necessary to define more delimited project outlines, and at the same time make use of and gain knowledge through different analytical approaches and methods. Thus, I identify four interrelated research questions which deal with issues related to the rapid development of Arab television and to the audiences' responses to new types of programming. The main project I am to undertake is a qualitative and comparative study of audience responses in four different countries (e.g. Denmark, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt). On the background of the special focus on the programming of Islam, a second and separate, but supportive, issue is on Islamic preachers' storytelling seen through the lenses of the audience response. A third and derived perspective will focus more explicitly on the Muslim and Arab Diaspora and their use of transnational media in identity construction with a special attention on the meaning of being in Diaspora. Last, and fourthly, I am looking into the questions of television as part of religious, political and cultural consumption. All four topics aim at giving answers to the questions concerning the interplay between Arab television, religious, political and cultural identity formation, hence being able to contribute to the general subject area.

As for the main project, the key issue is to gain new knowledge about the Arab and Muslim audience and how they make use of TV in its construction, negotiation, mediation, contestation and rejection of religious and anti-religious identities and practices. In order to get access to these identity constructions and practices, the research agenda is based on a qualitative and comparative in-depth study of a smaller group of television viewers. This approach raises a number of methodological questions of general interest for media and cultural studies, as well as questions related to media and identity formation. These methodological and theoretical questions will be discussed thoroughly through the study based on the premise that the basis for doing audience research is to understand the audience as not only a passive receiver of media messages, ideology and products. Rather, the audience responses do necessary include a first type of audience activity, namely an interpretive activity. The activity of interpretation is secondly deeply socially embedded, which introduces a second kind of audience activity, emphasizing the audiences' engagement with media in social settings during their consumption of media or by their sharing of interpretations and experiences with media in continuation of actual use. Both kinds of activities may be analysed as part of the audience identity formations through meaning constructions and through socially embedded cultural and religious identifications.

Dr. Ehab Galal holds a PhD and MA in Arab Media and Middle Eastern Studies from Copenhagen University. He has written on Arab and Islamic media. Much of his research has focused on the interaction between the TV-media and religious identity formation.


New Media and Islam in Tunisia

In November 2003 the Tunisian president Ben Ali declared in a speech that the audiovisual space now was open for the private sector. The speech became the starting signal for the launch of Tunisia's first three private radio stations and two private television channels. One of the private radio stations is the Islamic Radio Zitouna, launched in 2007. It is the first Tunisian audiovisual media with a sole focus on Islam. In general, media coverage of Islam has been scarce since independence in 1956. In the same period, from 2003, a new appropriation of Islam has taken place in Tunisia. While Islam has been absent in public spaces for several reasons since independence, this status of Islam has profoundly changed: Young girls and women are now wearing the headscarf in public, men leave their beard, mosques are full and prayer performed in the street on Fridays, and Islam is now openly discussed in conversations even in public places. Hence, two new and significant changes are shaping the Tunisian public space and society: New private media and a new appropriation of Islam.
This research project analyses the emergence of Radio Zitouna and the radio's role in the Tunisian context. The study of Radio Zitouna is holistic and focuses not only on the radio itself but also on the political and social context in which it operates. Thus the analysis uses both a media-centric and a media-ethnographic point of departure.

Rikke Hostrup Haugbølle holds a MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Copenhagen. Since 1995 she has followed Tunisia closely and has participated in several international conferences with papers on Tunisia. Her master thesis deals with the relevance of clans and tribal system for the development of democracy in contemporary Tunisia.