Inauguration of the French Institute of Islamology, a social issue

Inauguration of the French Institute of Islamology, a social issue

During his speech at Les Mureaux in October 2020, Emmanuel Macron unveiled a big plan to fight “Islamic separatism”. In addition to the security dimension, it also included an academic dimension. Promote in France a “Enlightenment Islam”the President of the Republic announced in particular the creation of a French Institute of Islamology (IFI).

This is what is being inaugurated on Tuesday 22 November at the Sorbonne. With a mission to reconnect with high-level French Islamology, the creation of this institute illustrates the renewed interest shown in this field – neglected in recent years – and especially the social issues around the development of the study of Islam. in the face of the success of strict speeches that are flourishing, especially on the Internet.

“The state must commit itself to supporting what, in our country, should allow us to bring out a better understanding of Islam”, said Emmanuel Macron in October 2020. And this for “get to know each other better, because for us it is a challenge”.

Threat of disappearance of French Islamology

Two years later, if the Fondation de l’Islam de France has so far obtained only 7% of the 10 million euros promised by Emmanuel Macron in 2020, the Institute was in fact born on February 2, 2022, despite its beginnings shaken by the recent resignation of its director, Souâd Ayada, replaced in September by the academic Pierre Caye. This public interest grouping (GIP) brings together, in addition to the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, eight partner universities, including the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes and Inalco. Its mission is to “to develop a high-level French Islamology” and promote the study “scientific and non-denominational belief systems that make up the Muslim religion. »

Concretely, the institute proposes to finance teaching-research positions, but also doctoral and post-doctoral scholarships, as well as to support the publication and translation of sources of Islamic culture. Thus positions will be created in the fundamental disciplines of Islam such as mysticism, law or Koranic exegesis. Since the creation of the IFI, seven positions have already been opened in the partner universities, out of a reserve of sixteen places.

“This is the greatest gift that French Islamology has received in a long time”, welcomes Islamologist Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, president of its scientific council. In the last ten years, the situation is worrying for this field of study within the university. In 2014, Catherine Mayeur-Jaouen, director of the Middle East and Muslim Worlds Scientific Interest Group (GIS), warned, in the White Paper on French Studies on the Middle East and Muslim Worlds, of the threat of ” disappearance ” of French Islamology. “When Islamologists retired or died, their positions were mostly assigned to researching political Islam,” explains Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi.

Prism often only political

However, even beyond scientific interest, research in Islamology also responds to social questions. “The in-depth and truly scientific study of texts remains a necessity at a time when so many Islamist currents invoke precisely these sources of origin”, argues the white paper. “Nonsense is being said all day because we suffer from a flagrant lack of Islamology in our country”, he also deplores Ghaleb Bencheikh, president of the Fondation de l’Islam de France. For him, it should “stop addressing the Islamic question only from the point of view of political scientists”.

It will therefore be a question, in these formations, of showing the diversity of currents, cultures and languages ​​of the Islamic world, and their evolutions in history. “When we historicize facts, we contextualize them and therefore we relativize them”, continues Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi. And this allows it “to acquire a detached and critical gaze on the texts of faith”.

Can the development of Islamology have repercussions on the theological formation of Muslims? Not directly. “Our mission is not to create training for imams”, specifies Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, even if they can follow him if they wish. The formation, which is not confessional, therefore does not respond to the need to train religious leaders in France, while most of them today are trained in Morocco, Algeria or Turkey. Some specialists hope, however, that the development of historical-critical methods of Islamology will indirectly irrigate Muslim theology.

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In Germany, Islamic theology at university

In 2021, a dozen university institutes of Islamic theology it operated in German public universities, which also house Catholic and Protestant theological faculties.

The challenge: to train teachers of Muslim religion, as religious instruction is provided in the public schools of the country. “Some Länder have also created Muslim religious institutes because they consider it a tool for integration”, explains Francis Messner, specialist in religious law at the University of Strasbourg. In these courses, the study of the Koran is combined with that of the social sciences.

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