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Expanding the Wahhabi mission: Saudi Arabia, the Islamic University of Medina and the transnational religious economy

Farquhar, Michael (2013) Expanding the Wahhabi mission: Saudi Arabia, the Islamic University of Medina and the transnational religious economy. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis offers a historical account of the emergence and evolution of new Islamic educational institutions in Saudi Arabia in the twentieth century which came to sit at the heart of migratory circuits of students and scholars from across the globe. It pays special attention to the Islamic University of Medina (IUM), which was launched by the Saudi state in 1961 to offer fully-funded religious instruction to mostly non-Saudi students. Exploring the history of this missionary project provides a point of departure for interrogating the commonplace claim that Saudi actors have taken advantage of wealth derived from oil rents in recent decades to fund the export of Wahhabism. In order to understand the far-reaching cultural, social and political dynamics that have emerged from this nexus between migration, education, material investment and religious mission, this study develops a historiography grounded in a novel conception of transnational religious economies. These are understood to consist in flows – both within and across national borders – of material capital, spiritual capital, religious migrants and social technologies. While Saudi state spending has been crucial for the operation of institutions like the IUM, its missionary project has also drawn on a far wider range of resources within the terms of these economies, including migrant labour, sources of symbolic legitimation and modes of pedagogy appropriated from beyond the Peninsula. The IUM’s syllabuses, whilst firmly rooted in core Wahhabi concerns, have also been shaped by processes of hegemonic engagement with migrant students. Finally, students bearing spiritual capital accumulated on its campus have themselves made divergent uses of these resources in locations around the world. The notion of transnational religious economies developed here shines light on the multiple resources, border crossings, historical contingencies, interests and forms of agency bound up in the articulation of a power-laden, state-led project of “religious expansion”.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Michael Farquhar
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Chalcraft, John

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