Project Outline


The research project Striking from the Margins: Religion, State, and Disintegration in the Middle East seeks a nuanced and dynamic understanding of the transformations of religion in relation to those of state and social structures, most specifically in Syria and Iraq, over the past three decades. It aims to work towards conceptual and analytical vocabularies which would be more adequate to the situation than common recourse to culturalist and post-colonialist explanations, by lending keen attention to social dynamics, political economy, conjunctural developments and the global setting of comparable developments elsewhere.

The project is concerned centrally with processes and mechanisms whereby once marginal sets of social, cultural, political and geographical margins, including religious margins, have been moving to the political center. The conditions under which this is occurring are ones associated with the atrophy of state functions and the rise of neo-patrimonial communalist, including sectarian and tribal, formations. In analytical terms, the project deliberately intends to question assumptions about religious or sectarian ‘revivals,’ ‘returns of the repressed,’ and kindered analytical terms and categories. Religion had never been absent, but recent decades have witnessed the reconfiguration and redefinition of the religious field in the Middle East, as elsewhere, very visibly and tangibly and within the lifetime of one generation. One crucial aspect of this redefinition and reconfiguration is activist and puritanical forms of religion coming to present themselves and to appear as alternative systemic to existing social, cultural and political practices.

The main thematic areas of the project involve a number of parallel, analogous or intersecting trends: the reframing of religion and the devolution of religious authority to new actors; the atrophy and devolution of state functions, including some security functions, to informal patrimonial and private actors; structural marginalization and socio-economic, cultural and geographical segmentation. Transnational jihadist networks seem to lie at the various intersection points of these trends and to constitute a tendential fulfilment of the margins.


The need for a new language and innovative analytical frameworks

The explosion of violence in the name of religion following the Arab Spring, ever-multiplying factional fissures, and the disaggregation of states and societies have left parties active and interested in the region searching for instruments that might enable a more cogent and convincing understanding of a seemingly intractable tangle of interconnected conflicts. The two-year research project “Striking from the Margins” (SFM), located at the Center for Religious Studies at the Central European University and financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York pursues a new language and analytical frameworks to facilitate greater understanding and contribute to discussion in research, policy and information communities.

SFM conducts research and outreach programs, has established a discussing forum on this webpage and is to publish conference proceedings and monographs with major research findings and ensure dissemination amongst research organisms and others at the research/policy interface.


What is the aim of SFM?

SFM seeks to generate, consolidate and disseminate a paradigm shift in studies of the volatile and mutating cultural, social and political landscape in the Middle East.

Started in September 2016, SFM’s aim is to diagnose and search for considered and plausible means of formulating possible public and eventually policy-related responses to the phenomena of system collapse and freelance para-state and non-state actors intensely evident after ‘the Arab Spring.’ The accent is placed on description in terms of a structural shift of margins against centers unleashing a new and for now chaotic dynamic. SFM is connected to a number of leading academic, public policy and media organizations in the region and internationally, in the pursuit of the new perspectives suggested and consequences and possibilities emerging from them.

SFM holds a bi-weekly research seminar in its Budapest seat. This is intended for the presentation of research results and the suggestion of analytical and comparative perspectives. The seminar will be addressed by both CEU and external experts.

The project will hold a major conference at the American University in Beirut in January 2019 to discuss its research and analytical outcomes. This has already been preceded by a research consultative conference in Budapest in June 2017 where designated representatives from our partner institutions gathered to discuss the defiances of the striking margins in the Middle East with the SFM team and a representative of the research project's donor organization.

The project’s partner institutions are:



Acting CO-Director and Senior Fellow Dr H. Hasan


Dr. Harith Hasan has a PhD in Political Science from Sant’ Anna School for Advanced Studies in Pisa. Prior to joining the SFM team, he was a research fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and he continues this association as a non-resident fellow. He was a fellow at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies-Harvard University (2014/15). His current research interests deal with authority, religion and Islamist militant movements in the Middle East. He published articles, essays and papers, both in English and Arabic, dealing with themes of sectarianism, Iraq’s system of government, ISIS and Shi’a political and religious groups. He was a member of the working group on religion and identity, as part of the Atlantic Council’s Task Force for the Middle East, and a member in the Atlantic Council’s Task Force for the future of Iraq.


Post-Doctoral Fellow Dr H. Akdedian


Dr Harout Akdedian has a PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of New England in Australia where he taught in Islamic Studies, politics, and peace and conflict studies. His research focuses on the rise of radicalized Islamic groups and ethno-religious relations in Syria with particular attention to state-society relations and social exclusion in state formation processes. Dr Akdedian was a research fellow at the Human Rights Center in Costa Rica and worked as a freelance journalist in Lebanon and Syria. He has a BA in Political Science from Haigazian University in Lebanon and a Masters in International Law from the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica.


University Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Visiting Professor at CEU and
SFM Founding Director Prof A. Al-Azmeh


Prof Aziz Al-Azmeh received a D.Phil. in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford having previously attended university in Beirut and Tübingen. He has been a long-term fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin, and fellow of the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study and the Collegium Budapest, and was resident scholar at the Rockefeller Foundation Center for Scholars in Bellagio. He is presently CEU University Professor in the Department of History at the Central European University, which he joined in 2012. He has been Visiting Professor at Yale University, Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, Georgetown University, and more recently at the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations of the Aga Khan University (London) and SciencesPo Paris. He is the author of, among other things, Islams and Modernities, and his latest book in English is The Emergence of Islam in late Antiquity (Cambridge University Press).


Director of the institute of Advanced Study at CEU and SFM Co-Director Prof N. Al-Bagdadi


Prof Al-Bagdadi is a historian of modern Islamic history, thought, literature and culture. She studied at the Freie Universität in Berlin, in Cairo and Tunis. She examines in-depth the various actors, structures and relationships of Late Ottoman Modernity and Muslim Reformism in the Arab East.  She connects Arab and Ottoman history with European history. One of her current research projects relocates the entangled connections of European and Arab borders of faith and the role of religion, scholarship and modernity between Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. Prof Al-Bagdadi deals sistematically with the question of gender, religion and modernity in nineteenth-century Middle East.


Research Project Coordinator

C. matthaus


C. Matthaus holds a MA in Political Science, Islamic Studies and Public Law from Heidelberg University. He also studied International Relations at SciencesPo Paris and Chinese at Nanjing University. He gained international experience when working for a German Foundation in Latin America.

He is the Research Project Coordinator of Striking from the Margins and exercises a hinge function between the Budapest-based project team at the Central European University and the sponsoring Carnegie Foundation.