“Islam mondain” and Private Piety

CETREN Seed Grant 2014/2015

“Islam mondain” and Private Piety: New Forms of Muslim Religiosity

Roman Loimeier / Liza Maria Franke

In the 20th century, Western analyses of Muslim societies have tended to depict Muslims as “epiphenomena” of Islam (Otayek/Soares 2010: 12). Muslim societies were seen to be dominated by either “peaceful Sufis” or “militant fundamentalists” pending the political context. Internal dynamics of Muslim movements of reform were often neglected (e.g. the political mobilization of women by movements of reform). Equally, Muslim movements of reform were often seen as an effort to conserve the social status quo and not as an effort to “Islamize” modernity. In recent years, a new focus in research on “pious Muslims” (Mahmood 2005: 40ff) has started to challenge established paradigms of explanation in Western analyses of Muslim societies. Yet, while Mahmood’s study still focused on the “public piety” of Muslim women in Egypt, studies by Haenni/Holtrop (2002) and Schielke (2007) have drawn attention to social groups whose ideas of piety not only escape established concepts of piety but who are also characterized by their increasingly private and individualistic character. Schielke’s and Haenni/Holtrop’s research has shown that we nowadays encounter not only a (growing) group of “new” Muslims who claim to be pious, but who also maintain that their piety was “their own (private) business” and thus not subject to scrutiny by, for instance, Muslim activist (“Islamist”) organizations which usually value public piety as a means of social control. Insistence on privacy (and individuality) may appear as rather a-political stance, yet, in fact forms an eminently political position as it rejects claims to hegemony of interpretation of both established religious (and political) authorities and the charismatic leaders of Muslim activist movements. Such attitudes could again be interpreted as a manifestation of an increasing “privatization” and “individualization” of piety in contemporary Muslim societies, and, as such, as a social and religious movement akin to aspects of European Protestantism. However, the aim of the present research project is (primarily) not to substantiate such a hypothesis, but to lead a comparative and trans-regional enquiry into the social background of “privately pious Muslims” and to fathom what “private piety” actually means in social, religious and political terms.

Prof. Dr. Roman Loimeier

Prof. Dr. Roman Loimeier

Associate Professor (tenured) in Social Anthropology at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Theaterplatz 15, 37073 Göttingen

+49 (0)551 39-7655



Roman Loimeier (b. 1957) has studied (social) anthropology and African studies at the University of Freiburg (1978-183) and at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London (1983/1984) as well as Islamic studies at the University of Bayreuth (1984-1990). He did both his Ph.D. as well as his “Habilitation” in Islamic Studies at the University of Bayreuth and taught as Research Assistant (wissenschaftlicher Assistant) and Senior Research Assistant (wissenschaftlicher Oberassistent) in Islamic Studies at the University of Bayreuth (1991-2005), was Visiting Professor at the “Ÿcole des Hautes Ÿtudes en Sciences Sociales” in Paris (in 2004 and 2011) as well as in Göttingen (Islamic Studies, in 2005/2006), and worked as a Research Fellow at the “Centre of Modern Oriental Studies” (Zentrum Moderner Orient) in Berlin (2005-2007). In 2008, he was appointed Assistant Professor (Department of Religious Studies) at the University of Florida (Gainesville). Since 2009, he is Associate Professor at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Göttingen. Roman Loimeier has been doing research in Senegal (1981, 1990-1993), Northern Nigeria (1986-1988) and Tanzania (since 2001) and has published several volumes such as Muslim Societies in Africa: A Historical Anthropology, Bloomington 2013, Eine Zeitlandschaft in der Globalisierung: Das islamische Sansibar im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Bielefeld, 2012; Between Social Skills and Marketable Skills: The Politics of Islamic Education in Zanzibar in the 20th century, Leiden 2009; Säkularer Staat und Islamische Gesellschaft - Die Beziehungen zwischen Staat, Sufi-Bruderschaften und Islamischer Reformbewegung in Senegal im 20. Jahrhundert, Münster 2001, and Islamic Reform and Political Change in Northern Nigeria, Evanston 1997. Since 2008, he is “section editor” (Sub-Saharan Africa, Islamic studies) for the third edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam.


T: +49 551 39 21286
F: +49 551 39 21284


Georg-Universität-Universität Göttingen
Heinrich-Düker-Weg 14
37073 Göttingen