MESA – Transnationalism and Religious Authority: Exploring the Salafi Movement

The Nijmegen research group on Salafism as a Transnational Movement will present itself in a panel at the annual MESA conference in San Diego. We are very pleased that Jocelyne Cesari agreed to be our discussant at this panel.

Our focus in this panel will be on the issue of religious authority. In general we can distinguish three perspectives in the study of transnationalism: one that focuses on the movement of people, goods, information and money between different countries and one that focuses on forms of consciousness, belonging, identity and cultural creation. A third approach takes into account the development of debates and discussions among Muslims about the nature and role of Islam in Europe and North America. Bowen argues that “Islam creates and implies the existence and legitimacy of a global public space of normative reference and debate […].”The transnational character of Islam surfaces in Islam’s history and its universality as well as in its reference to the ummah, the worldwide community of Muslims. This transnational character of Islam is related to the global flows of ideas, references and debates about the role and nature of Islam in Europe and North Africa (Bowen 2004:882-883). Among religious movements of Muslims it has been in particular the Salafi movement that has been able to emerge as a transnational movement in every regard by establishing transnational networks of authority, learning and communication. At the same time in many ways (Salafi) Islam is lived, experienced, and debated at local levels. Moreover it is often in concrete daily life, at a local level, that individuals connect their own local experiences to the larger narratives of a global Islam. Realizing the connection between individual daily experiences and global Islam is usually done by a reference to the global ummah and, especially in the case the second generation Muslim youth in Europe, by the discourse of a ‘return to ‘true’ Islam’ and a search for undisputed authorities on a global and local level. This panel aims to explore how religious knowledge of the Salafi movements is produced and transformed on a local and global level by focusing on the role of religious authorities within the Salafi networks. Papers about localized forms of Salafism in the Middle East and Europe will be presented as well as papers that take transnational authorities as a starting point. The panel will combine anthropology, social movement theory, religious studies and media studies in order to contribute to the ongoing debates about Salafism as a transnational movement.

Bowen, John. 2004. “Beyond Migration: Islam as a Transnational Public Space.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 30:879-894.
Sponsor: Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands


  • The Transnational vs. the Local: Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi’s Transnational Religious Authority and the Locally-Inspired Midad al-Suyuf Forum by Joas Wagemakers
  • Transformation of Religious Authority in Kuwait by Zoltan Pall
  • Fields of Authorization – Transnational connections of authority in Salafi networks by Martijn de Koning
  • Authority as Authenticity: Reconstructing Salafi Authority in Dutch and German Chat Rooms and Online Forums by Carmen Becker


  • Jocelyne Cesari (Harvard University) – Discussant
  • Joas Wagemakers (Radboud University Nijmegen) – Presenter
  • Martijn Koning, De (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands) – Organizer & Presenter
  • Carmen Becker (Radboud University Nijmegen) – Presenter
  • Zoltan Pall (University of Utrecht) – Presenter

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