Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

One Among Zeroes |0100| Towards an Anthropology of Everyday AI in Islam

The |0100| Project studies the discourses, practices and imaginaries of Islamic information society’s most debated component- Artificial Intelligence- using multimodal and mixed methods and comparing and contrasting narratives and imagery of AI-religious-futures in Muslim Southeast Asia.

Bart Barendregt
NWO Vici Grant (VI.C.201.058) NWO Vici Grant (VI.C.201.058)

An Anthropology of future-making

Digital technologies and religion have at least one thing in common; they each produce futures in both professional and popular imagination. Islam, as one of the world’s major religions and as ‘liberation theology’ of the global South provides a thought-provoking case from which to look at the connection between the digital and religion. The ideal of an Islamic information society spearheading the latest technologies offers an alternative model to the dominant pathways of digital transition such as Californian ‘big tech’, the Chinese social credit system, or European regulation.

The project aims to build upon cultural studies of digital design and looks at AI’s ethical dilemmas from the viewpoint of Muslim Southeast Asia.  Studying religious-digital futures means contemplating different possible directions for digitalising societies and raises public awareness of ethical decisions embedded in AI.  Through ethnographic evidence and overarching socio-anthropological analysis, the project explores what digital everyday religion is like, how Southeast Asians use AI in everyday life, how values and meanings of AI and religious society are co-produced, and how digital technology contributes to exciting societal experiments and ethical dilemmas.

Innovatively using historical analysis of future-making discourse, we probe ‘big’ and ‘thick’ date in situ and through digital ethnography together with the use of infographics, animations and comics/zines to map and represent ‘scripted futures’, ways in which we collectively imagine, think and talk about the future.

Research Questions

Four areas of enquiry form the basis of our investigations:

  1. Who and what are the key actors of AI in Islam?  And how do these stakeholders relate to each other?
  2. Which futures are articulated by expert interpreters and users of AI in Islam in everyday Southeast Asian contexts?
  3. How are and where do Islam and AI converge and collide?
  4. How do we understand and analyse the resulting challenges and dilemmas? How can we undo AI’s often-mystifying powers and open it up for public scrutiny.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore

The project compares AI in Islam through case-studies in three national contexts somewhat representative for various positions in the Muslim world; Indonesia as the world’s largest Muslim majority country with yet a secular constitution, Malaysia a country with three culturally different majorities but Islam as state religion and Singapore, where Muslims are often framed as a yet  to be developed minority. In each of these countries we focus on areas where AI and Islam compete as ‘scripts for the future’.  Each of these countries rolls out different models for sizable but diverse Muslim populations resulting in a different emphasis within their debates on AI in Islam.

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