Scholars petition Netherlands not to close leading institute on Islam
Religion reporters often get asked how they keep up with developments in different faiths. One way is to read the leading publications in the field. Keeping up with the latest trends in Islam is about to get harder for those of us who are regular readers of one of the most interesting journals on Muslim issues, the ISIM Review published in English by the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
(Photo: Head scarf exhibit in Amsterdam Historical Museum, 6 March 2006/Paul Vreeker)
Not only is the Review closing down — ISIM itself, a Dutch academic institute set up by the universities of Leiden, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Nijmegen 10 years ago — is being closed for lack of funds. The University of Leiden announced this on Dec 17 (here in Dutch) and ISIM announced it here in English. Surprisingly, it got almost no coverage in the media (here’s one short piece from De Telegraaf in Dutch).
The Dutch experience with Islam is one of the most strained in Europe, as seen by the murder of film maker Theo van Gogh and the rise of far-right politicians like Geert Winters Wilders. ISIM’s excellent research has been a useful antidote to that, presenting a much better informed view of Islam both in the Netherlands and abroad. I’ve found it very informative as background to the current issues concerning Muslim and a tip-off for scholars to consult when I’m writing about them. There aren’t enough of these publications around and it’s sad to see such a good one, and the institute that produces it, disappear.
Oddly enough, a February 2008 peer review commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Education — the same ministry now pulling the plug on ISIM — gave the institute high marks for its work. It said that “the Institute has succeeded in using its very limited means to constitute itself as a prominent centre with great international attraction. Clear indicators for this are its appeal for prominent colleagues from all over the world (cf. the success of its Visiting Fellows Programme), the great international appreciation of its research projects, and its ability to attract younger scholars (PhDs and post-docs), again from very different regions and backgrounds … this solid academic reputation … has made the institute a focal point within Europe for comparative debates, workshops and conferences on a wide array of questions concerning Islam and its rising presence in the continent.”
Alexandre Caeiro, an ISIM PhD who’s an expert on Islamic fatwas in Western Europe, told me a group of scholars associated with ISIM has been circulating a petition to the Dutch Ministry of Education urging it to reconsider. If you know and appreciate ISIM (or just discover the ISIM Review now by searching through its archive) and want to support it, you can contact Caeiro at firstname.lastname@example.org.