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Three PhD students on the Anthropology of AI in Southeast Asian Islam

Vacancy number
21-570 10033
Job type
PhD positions
Hours (in fte)
External/ internal
Placed on
9 November 2021
Closing date
12 December 2021 Vacancy closed

The institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology (CADS)  of the faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences is looking for a

Three PhD students on the
 Anthropology of AI in Southeast Asian Islam: one for research in Malaysia, one for research in Indonesia, one for research in Singapore (1.0 FTE each)  
Vacancy number 21-570 10033

Project description

The Leiden University Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology (CADS) is host to the NWO-Vici research project One Among Zeroes |0100| Towards an Anthropology of Everyday AI in Islam (VI.C. 201.058) funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and directed by Prof. dr. Bart Barendregt. The three PhD candidates will work within this project.

Project abstract

The |0100| Project investigates the Islamic Information Society by turning to its most debated component  artificial intelligence  with multimodal and mixed methods, comparing and contrasting narratives and imagery of AI-religious futures in the national settings of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, each with sizeable yet differently positioned populations of Muslim adherents. |0100| situates ethical dilemmas surrounding algorithms, bots and machine learning by ethnographically and longitudinally observing and interviewing makers and users. Innovatively using a historical analysis of future-making discourse, we probe big and ‘thick’ data in situ and through digital ethnography, and use infographics, animations and comics to both map and represent future visions of AI in Islam.

We do so by contextualizing ‘AI in Islam’ in Muslim Southeast Asia looking at three national settings and by ethnographically comparing the three areas on which most of the debates about ‘AI in Islam’ focus. Ethnographic fieldwork in Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley), is going to focus mostly on AI entertainment specifically looking at how young Islamists are building streaming platforms that use algorithms to advise which lifestyle products are sharia-compliant. In Indonesia ethnographic fieldwork is mostly going to focus on AI education in two university sites (Bandung, Banda Aceh) that are differently-renowned for their Islamic tradition. Ethnographic fieldwork in Singapore is going to focus on AI ethical governance and the ways smart applications are used to surveil Muslim minorities but also how halal scanning apps, bots and augmented reality are used by those very same minorities as means of self-disciplining. In each country we go in-depth in one particular area, developing a second and third case as added comparative insights from the other two countries.

In the context of a research team consisting of the principal investigator, two postdoctoral researchers and three PhDs, we will study AI in Islam as both a multi-sited cultural artefact that can be meaningfully investigated only by illustrating what it means and does for a particular group of people in a specific place.

Key Responsibilities

Each of the three PhD subproject now advertised, will deliver life histories, interviews and focus groups with AI designers, ethnographies of labs and institutes, plus surveys with religious users in one particular Muslim Southeast Asian setting. Each PhD candidate will be trained in digital ethnography, namely fieldwork with – and in - digital communities, both offline and online. To enhance conceptual consistency across each of the distinctive areas of ethnographic research in distinctive sites, each PhD student will address the three areas (AI education, AI entertainment, AI self-governance) in their research projects by attending one main case study in particular (though semi-structured interviews, online qualitative surveys and other methods to be discussed), thus explaining in-depth the contextual relevance of these AI sectors in that particular national and local context. The other two (with interviews for each additional case) provide the broad contextual comparison for the same area in the other two countries. The PI curates the comparative analysis with a view to joint publications.

Deliverables for the three positions:

  • Elaborating a research proposal, conducting fieldwork (total 14 months) and writing a PhD thesis, which will result in a completed PhD thesis, contribution to a joint volume and an article in a peer-reviewed journal;
  • Submitting research papers and presenting reports at the project’s workshops and at the project’s final conference;
  • Actively contributing to the project’s public dissemination activities;
  • Organizing and participating in reading and discussion groups, seminars, workshops, and masterclasses (as appropriate) within the research group and the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology.

Selection criteria

  • A Research Masters or Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology or related field, with a top-quality Master’s thesis;
  • Demonstrated affinity with the field of Digital Anthropology/Sociology
  • Affinity with the role of emergent technologies in the world of (Southeast Asian) Islam;
  • Well-developed research skills (and curiosity to develop new ones), including the ability to formulate relevant and creative research questions and hypotheses, descriptive and analytical skills, and a clear and persuasive style of writing;
  • Experience with ethnographic research;
  • Excellent mastery of English (spoken and academic writing);
  • Independent thinker and team player;
  • Determined and motivated to complete the proposed PhD research within 4 years;
  • For the study in Indonesia the PhD student must have a native or near native competence in Indonesian, for the studies in Singapore and Malaysia it is desirable to have working some knowledge of the Malay language, or willingness to acquire such knowledge in year one.

Our organisation

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences conducts high-quality research and offers a broad and disciplinary educational programme, focused on increasing our understanding of current developments in society. The faculty consists of five institutes: Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Cultural Anthropology and Developmental Sociology, Education and Child Studies, Political Science and Psychology. The faculty has approximately 7,000 students and 850 staff members. For more informationormation, see here. 

Diversity and inclusion are cherished as core values at Leiden University. At the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences we also strive to create a diverse and inclusive learning and working environment, in which everyone – no matter who they are or what they do – can feel at home and develop their talents.

Cultural Anthropology & Development Sociology

Information about the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology can be found at the website. Our research program Global vulnerabilities and social resilience addresses ‘Diversity’, ‘Sustainability’ and ‘Digitalization’ as intersecting areas of critical investigation. These three themes articulate the urgent connection between economy, politics and ecology and run as a red thread through multiple projects in the institute, firmly emplaced in a signature methodology that combines qualitative, quantitative, digital and visual methods. The institute’s scientific staff work on economic and political anthropology, global sociology, the anthropology and sociology of environmental issues, citizenship and diversity, in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Our unique combination of interdisciplinary interest, a comparative area studies approach, and social scientific research methods positions us within a larger partnership of Leiden Institutes and links our research and teaching to the extensive interdisciplinary and international networks we are currently involved in.

Terms and conditions
We offer a
 fulltime position for one year, starting from 1 February 2022. The appointment may be extended for up to a total of four years, subject to need and satisfactory performance. Salary range from 2434.- to  3111.- gross per month on a full-time basis (pay scale P, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities).

The appointment is consistent with the collective employment agreement of Dutch universities (CAO). Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3 %), training and career development. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. For international spouses we have set up a dual career programme. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break. More information can be found at the website.


Enquiries can be made to the PI of the |0100| Project, prof. dr. Bart Barendregt, email barendregt@fsw.leidenuniv.nl If you have any questions about the procedure, please contact Ilse Prins, email i.m.prins@fsw.leidenuniv.nl

Please submit online your application no later than December 12, 2021 via the blue button of our application system. Applications (in English) should include: 

  • A cover letter stating your motivation for one of the positions (Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore), why you would like to pursue a career in this field and any relevant work experience/skills;
  • A curriculum vitae;
  • Master thesis
  • Two referees’ names and contacts. Referees will be contacted directly by the search committee.

Online interviews with shortlisted candidates are expected to be held in the first two weeks of January

Enquiries from agencies are not appreciated

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