Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Research project

Project Office IRP

Programme management of research programme “Strengthening knowledge of and dialogue with the Islamic/Arab world”

2008 - 2013
Dennis Janssen
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Social Development (DSO/OO)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Social Development (DSO/OO)

From 2008 to May 2013, the Project Office Islam Research Programme (Project Office IRP) coordinated and administered the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ research programme ‘Strengthening knowledge of and dialogue with the Islamic/Arab world’, in short, Islam Research Programme on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Social Development (DSO/OO). The IRP Programme facilitated research on contemporary developments in the Muslim world that were relevant to Dutch policy development in the field of international cooperation. As such, the Project Office was in charge of the overall coordination and administration of the research programme.

The Project Office IRP was administered by a consortium of Leiden University (LU) and PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory (PwC). Within Leiden University, the Project Office IRP was hosted by the Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance, and Development (VVI).

Research Programme

The contemporary Muslim world is in motion, and the revival of ‘Islam’ as a political, socio-economic, and religious factor in this part of the world receives a great deal of attention. Within the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and particularly at a number of Dutch Embassies in the Muslim world a need has arisen for more knowledge of societal trends and movements in the Muslim world.

Investing in knowledge of the Muslim world is, considering the developments in relations between Muslim and non-Muslim countries and between Muslims and non-Muslims within countries, of great importance. The increased importance of religion and development in foreign policy further increases the need for this knowledge.The Islam Research Programme catered for this need by matching scholars and Embassies, whereby the former carried out academic research projects that answered questions relevant to policy formation at the diplomatic mission involved. The research projects were implemented by (Dutch) researchers or research institutions, in cooperation with local researchers and in consultation with the Dutch diplomatic missions concerned. Interaction between the diplomatic mission and the researcher were an integral part of the project. Participation of researchers from countries that were part of the Programme have contributed to capacity building in these countries.

The general aim of the Programme was to strengthen knowledge of and dialogue with the Muslim world. The Programme concentrated on research on contemporary developments in the Muslim world that were relevant to Dutch policy developments in the field of international cooperation. Subjects of research fell within the areas of Islamic law, political and socio-economic developments, and culture and religion. The research projects were planned in close consultation with Dutch policy officers at Embassies in various Muslim countries and were aimed at gaining, sharing and using knowledge of developments in the Muslim world. In this way, the Programme has contributed to further strengthening the quality of Dutch policy and to the linking of scientific research and policy-making.

Besides research activities ‘knowledge activities’ such as discussion meetings, seminars and working visits were organised. At a regional and international conference, diplomatic missions and researchers exchanged results: the conferences provided a platform for meaningful exchange between policy officers and scholars.

Country Projects

The IRP Abuja Project was a collaboration between the University of Oxford (UK) and the Development Research and Project Centre (dRPC, Nigeria). The project started in October 2010 and lasted until September 2012. Religious faith and its institutions are of unparalleled significance in Nigerian society today. Exploring their functions and dynamics therefore helped to identify entry points for policy interventions not only in the area of conflict resolution, but also in the area of socio-economic and human development. The project encompassed two overarching thematic goals: the mapping of Islamic actors in the north of Nigeria; and analysing the dynamics of inter-faith relations between Muslim groups, and between Muslims and Christians.

The IRP Ankara Project, with the title ‘Managing Religious Diversity in a Changing World’, was conducted by the VU University Amsterdam and the University of Utrecht. The project started in October 2009 and was completed in December 2010. The project aimed to analyse the role of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) today, both in the Netherlands and in Turkey. The research started from the assumption that the relation between religion and state in both Turkey and Western Europe is complex and dynamic. Taking a closer look at Diyanet therefore provided a good starting point, because it is an institution of a secular state that – paradoxically – is a major actor in Turkish religious life, illustrating this very complexity in the relation between religion and state. The central question in this project was how the recent changes in the religious and political balances of power (the coming into power of AKP, the Justice and Development Party) influence the position and political-religious decisions of Diyanet, and the relationships with the other players in the ‘religious field’.

Research report:
Sunier, Thijl, Nico Landman, Heleen van der Linden, Nazli Bilgili, Alper Bilgili (2011) Diyanet. The Turkish Directorate for Religious Affairs in a Changing Environment, VU University Amterdam, Utrecht University

The IRP Cairo Project started in April 2010 and was completed in May 2012. The project was a cooperation between the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo (NVIC) and Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) in Cairo. The project studied religious actors and discourses in order to analyse domestic political and social developments in Egypt. Additionally, this project aimed to identify relevant interlocuters for dialogue for the Embassy. The first phase of the project consisted of an extensive ‘mapping’ of Islamic actors and organisations, their discourses and the activities they organise in Egypt. 

The second research phase focused on Islamic actors and the new media with a focus on their communication strategies and how Islamic preachers address issues of citizenship in the public sphere. The working plan for the Cairo project was ready designed, when the Egyptian revolution started. The plan was adjusted where possible in order to incorporate relevant developments with a larger emphasis on the reshaping of the position of Islamic actors after the ouster of Mubarak. 

More information about research reports: 
Website NVIC

The IRP Dakar project, which was conducted by the African Studies Centre in the Netherlands, started in September 2008 and was completed in December 2010. In addition to the execution of academic research, the project served to provide the embassy staff with background knowledge on the role of Islam in political and economic life in Senegalese society. 

The programme consisted of three sub-projects: the first served to analyse the relationship between Islam and politics, in particular the influence of the Senegalese Islamic brotherhoods on politics and vice versa. The second focused on the role of Islam (Islamic actors and networks, Islamic values) on the economy and the investment climate, and the third project analysed the role of Islamic actors and ideas in the public debate on good governance in Senegal. Particularly interesting was that throughout the research, the findings of the three sub-projects came to increasingly reinforce one another, contributing to the emergence of a dense picture of the changes and continuities of the role of Islam in Senegalese society over the last decades. 

Research report:
Kaag, Mayke (ed.) (2011) Islam et Engagements au Sénégal, résultats d'un programme de recherche demandé par l'Ambassade du Royaume des Pay-Bas à Dakar

More information about the research report: African Studies Centre

The International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) executed the first IRP Jakarta research project. This short-term project started in 2007 and was completed in 2008. Research was done by principal researcher Martin van Bruinessen, with support of four Indonesian researchers: Moch Nur Ichwan, Ahmad Najib Burhani, Mujiburrahman and Muhammad Wildan. The research report that was presented at the end of the project attempted to understand key aspects of what may be called the ‘conservative turn’ in Indonesian Islam, on the basis of new field research. The research project also resulted in a comprehensive overview of Muslim organizations, associations and movements in Indonesia. 

Research report:
Bruinessen, M. van (ed.) (2013) Contemporary Developments in Indonesian Islam: Explaining the "Conservative Turn", Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS).

The second IRP Jakarta Project was executed by the Training Indonesia’s Young Leaders Programme, which is part of the Leiden Institute for Area Studies (LIAS). The project started in 2010 and was completed in December 2012. The project aimed to analyse religious trends in contemporary Indonesian society, specifically looking at developments related to the role of Islam in political, cultural and socio-legal contexts. Additionally, this project aimed to broaden the Embassy’s network with researchers, policy officers and key figures in Indonesia. 

The first research theme was Sharia-based legislation in Indonesia focusing on a comparison between international treaties and local practices with regard to the position of women and children. The second theme studied developments related to Islam in Aceh. The third theme studied developments within organisations and parties with Islam as their basis, focusing on the impact of Muslim organisations and the ulama group on political parties. 

Research Report:
Dijk, Kees van (ed.) (2013) Regime Change, Democracy and Islam; The Case of Indonesia

The IRP Khartoum Project started in February 2011 and was completed in September 2012. The project was executed by the Centre d’Études et de Documentation Économiques, Juridiques et Sociales (CEDEJ) (Khartoum) in cooperation with the University of Khartoum. The project aimed to create a better understanding of the legal, political, and social aspects of religion in Sudan. In this regard, the project aimed to contribute to an alternative and insightful reading of the political sphere and of the official use of religion in politics. 

The two central themes, ‘New Religious Trends’ and the ‘Status of Religious Minorities after the Referendum’, are interlinked and include these different aspects of religion, revealing its multifaceted practices, usages and expressions. The first theme covered modern Sufi actors, Salafism, Islamic centrism and Islamic think tanks. The second theme studied the position of Christian and Muslim minorities in Sudan and South Sudan from a socio-legal perspective. 

The IRP Rabat Project was conducted by Leiden University. The project started in September 2008 and was completed in June 2012. The aim of this research was to present an analysis of Moroccan policy, both its objectives and instruments, directed at Moroccans who live abroad, in particular in the Netherlands. The project both served a PhD programme as well as a knowledge source for Dutch policymakers to improve their understanding of Moroccan policies in this respect. Questions that the research team addressed included whether and how Dutch Moroccans experience the effects of Moroccan policy initiatives. It thereby aimed to answer the question what impact, if any, these policy initiatives have on the integration process and identity formation of Moroccans in the Netherlands. 

Research report: 
Merel Kahmann defended her PhD thesis at Leiden University on 16 April 2014.
Title of the thesis:  Ontmoetingen tussen Marokkaanse Nederlanders en de Marokkaanse overheid: Een antropologisch perspectief

The IRP Riyadh Project was a collaboration between Clingendael Institute (the Netherlands) and Radar Groep BV. The project started in April 2010 and was completed in April 2012. The aim of this project was on the one hand to analyse recent developments in relation to civil society, women and intellectual trends and debates in Saudi Arabia, and on the other hand to promote and foster practical cooperation between researchers and organisations in Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands. 

The first theme focused on how Saudi women perceive and experience the creation of parallel female spaces in education, the workforce and civil society. The second theme studied whether Saudi Arabia’s civil society has a socio-political transformative potential. The third part focused on intellectual trends and debates about citizenship in Saudi Arabia.

Research report: 
Meijer, R. and P. Aarts (eds) (2012) Saudi Arabia, Between Conservatism, Accomodation and Reform  

The research report as well as the translation of the research report in Arabic can be downloaded at: Website Clingendael

Conferences and Workshops

From 28-30 August 2012 the Project Office IRP organized, in collaboration with the Overseas development Institute (ODI), a 3 day workshop ‘Research Based Policy Influencing’. The objective of the workshop was to introduce participants to different means of policy influencing and research communication strategies. During the workshop, theory on research based policy influencing was combined with training on how to employ practical tools. 

An international group of 15 researchers with different academic backgrounds participated in the workshop. All participants were involved in one of the IRP research projects. The training should enable researchers to better understand the policy cycle and to package and deliver their findings to policy-makers (particularly Dutch Embassy staff) and other relevant stakeholders both for the duration of the IRP project and in the long term.

Third IRP conference 'Trends in the Muslim World: Perspectives from Research & Policy'

The first IRP conference, held in November 2009 in the Netherlands, aimed to introduce the various research themes and discuss the framework to facilitate interaction between the worlds of policy and research. At the second conference, held in Cairo, Egypt in November 2010, the progress of the different research programmes was discussed. In addition, workshops on the research and on the writing process of policy effective products were organised. A third and final conference was organised on 17, 18 and 19 April 2012. 

At the time of the third conference most IRP research projects had either been finished or were in the final stages of completion. At this concluding conference, the findings resulting from the different research programmes were, therefore, presented and, if possible, synergies between the different research projects were sought.

IRP Conference Programme 17-19 April 2012
Booklet IRP Conference 17-19 April 2012

Second IRP conference 'Knowledge Exchange about Muslim Societies: Policy and Research Synergies'

On 3 and 4 November 2010 the second conference as part of the Islam Research Programme took place in Cairo, Egypt. This working conference entitled “Knowledge Exchange about Muslim Societies: Policy and Research Synergies” brought together policy officers and researchers currently participating in one of the nine IRP research projects. Besides providing a platform to exchange knowledge and experiences, this working conference aimed to train researchers and policy officers in carrying out and making use of policy-relevant academic research.

IRP Conference Programme 3-4 November 2010
Booklet IRP Conference 3-4 November 2010  

First IRP Conference 'Studying Islam in the Public Sphere: A Critical Reflection on Knowledge Production'

The first conference in the framework of the research programme ‘Strengthening knowledge of and dialogue with the Islamic/Arab world’ took place on 3 and 4 November 2009 in Leiden and was organised by the Project Office Islam Research Programme in collaboration with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Social Development Department. The aim of the conference was to provide a platform for knowledge exchange to facilitate interaction and dialogue between academics, policy officers and practitioners, and to critically reflect upon that interaction and dialogue. The conference made use of the Chatham House Rule. The four themes discussed: Civil Society in the Muslim World, Interaction between Academics and Policy Officers, Human Rights and Islam, Research Capacity Development in the Muslim World, specifically fore grounded the relationship between policy and academic research in the field of the study of contemporary developments in the Muslim world.  

IRP Conference Programme 2-4 November 2009

Coordination and Management

The Project Office IRP was administered by a consortium of Leiden University (LU) and PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory (PwC). Within Leiden University, the Project Office IRP was hosted by the Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance, and Development (VVI).

For purposes of academic quality assurance, the Project Office worked together with an Academic Advisory Board which was composed of academics with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise drawn from various Dutch universities.

The Project Office IRP coordinated research projects in the countries of Burkina Faso, Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco, Nigeria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Sudan.

The Project Office IRP has been closed as from May 2013. 
For information, please contact Dennis Janssen, Van Vollenhoven Institute 
Phone + 31 (0) 71 527 7260 
Email d.c.f.m.janssen@law.leidenuniv.nl

This website uses cookies.  More information.