Islam in the West Program

The Islam in the West Program is an initiative of Jocelyne Cesari, Research Associate at the Prince Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program. Its Harvard activities are the result of an interdisciplinary partnership between the Prince Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Center for European Studies, and the Islamic Legal Studies Program of the Harvard Law School. In the USA, it has received funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, the Social Sciences Research Council, and the U.S. Department of Education (via CMES’s status as a Title VI National Resource Center). In Europe, it is supported by the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris and has received funding from the European Commission (see www.euro-islam.info).

Western Europe and North America are home to rapidly expanding Muslim minorities, increasing the need for data on the relationship between Islam and democracy. The Islam in the West Program aims to contribute to the global debate on Islam through an in-depth examination of the religious, political, and social situations of American and European Muslims, and by illuminating the relationships of these communities with the Muslim world at large.

The Islam in the West Program is currently housed at the Prince Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program


Program Objectives:

  • Increase knowledge of Muslim Minorities in secular and democratic contexts in the West and shed light on their positions vis-a-vis the Muslim world at large.
  • Establish a systematic comparison between Muslims in Europe and Muslims in America.
  • Create an innovative interdisciplinary approach with which to explore the multidimensional reality of Islam in the West.
  • Provide scholars across disciplines, at Harvard and beyond, with research experience, resources and guidance.
  • Provide resources for government administrations, teachers, civil servants, politicians, media, etc. to promote greater understanding of Islam and Muslims in the West.
  • Contribute to the public debate by disseminating cutting-edge research on Muslims in Europe and the U.S.

Previous Program Activities

From 2001 through 2012 the Islam in the West Program was housed at CMES and funded in part with Title VI National Resource Center grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education. The following activities were conducted during that time. For information on the current activities of the program, please visit the Prince Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program website.

  • Training: The GSAS Student Workshop, focused on Islam in the West, provided research support to students engaged in studying Muslims in America and Europe as well as other contemporary trends within Islam. The first Islam in the West Student Conference was held in 2005–06.
  • Developing a Questionnaire for a National Survey on Muslims in America: Two meetings have been held at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies with partners from Universities and Institutions around the country, including Fred Kniss and Marcia Hermansen from Loyola University in Chicago, Ivan Light and Parvin Shahlapour from UCLA, as well as Mohamed Younis from Gallup and Greg Smith from Pew Research Center. Preparations are being made for the implementation of the study in the near future.
  • Encyclopedia of Islam in America: The Islam in the West Program produced a major resource for increasing understanding of American Muslims in the Encyclopedia of Islam in America, a two-volume encyclopedia published in September 2007 by Greenwood Press. It contains the work of more than 30 contributors from across the country, providing readers with information on the religious, political, and cultural life of Muslims in the U.S. 
  • Research: The Muslims in Boston Survey has developed since 2007 as an important pilot study on "Muslims after 9/11: Political Participation and Civic Engagement." The overarching goal of this project is to gain a better understanding of the multiple ways in which Muslim Americans define themselves as believers, and as citizens, in a non-Muslim society in the post 9/11 context. The project investigates the religious practices, and political and civic participation of American Muslims, with a view to assessing how these factors influence integration into the wider secular society for various Muslim groups. U.S.-based efforts build upon similar research we are conducting in Paris, London, Berlin, and Amsterdam, thus facilitating transnational comparisons regarding the state of Muslim engagement in the Western world. We are certain that the objective data on the political participation, civic engagement, and religiosity of Muslims across all demographics that will emerge from these efforts will have critical implications for the development of more effective policies for encouraging citizenship and discouraging radicalization, thus leading to more healthy and pluralistic societies, in the U.S. and internationally.
  • The Islamopedia Initiative: Web-Based Resources on Contemporary Islamic Thinking: One of the principle projects of the Islam in the West Program is the development of Islamopedia Online, a comprehensive, web-based, interactive collection of diverse discourses on the Islamic tradition. This initiative aims to develop a comprehensive resource that gathers in one place the current databases, interpretations, and controversies concerning Islamic religious tradition in Muslim and non-Muslim societies. The overall goal of Islamopedia is to contribute to better dialogue and understanding between Islam and the West by providing non-biased information, promoting knowledge of the vast diversity of opinions within the Islamic tradition and to develop collaborations between Muslim intellectuals and scholars and students across cultures and languages.
  • Dissemination: The Islam in the West Seminar Series brought leading scholars in the field to share their work with faculty and students, and to educate the broader public on contemporary Islam and Muslims in Europe, the United States, and the Muslim world at large. Discussion topics included: adaptation of Islamic tradition to secularism, transnational links of Muslims in the West, consequences of 9/11 on integration of Islam within Western societies.