The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded Associate Professor of Religion James Hoesterey a $305,000 grant to study moderate Islam. Loosely described, “moderate Islam” denotes the non-extremist aspects of the world’s second-largest religion.

Hoesterey shares the grant with University of Michigan Assistant Professor of Anthropology Yasmin Moll. Hoesterey and Moll will each lead teams of scholars to the Muslim-majority countries of Indonesia and Egypt, respectively. A third team will study in Morocco. The teams will attempt to understand how the concept of moderate Islam differs across these regions. Among the scholars is Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Middle East and Islamic Studies Vincent Cornell.  

The idea for the project stemmed from the professors’ dissatisfaction with public perceptions of moderate Islam and in academic circles, according to Moll.

“When people in the U.S. think about the idea of moderate Muslims, it’s almost as if moderate Muslims are people who do not take their faith seriously,” Moll said.

Moll’s research will focus on how moderate Muslims interact with the religious peacebuilding movement in Egypt.

Hoesterey and Moll will live lengthily in their respective regions of research, where they will conduct independent ethnographic studies on people who identify as moderately Muslim. Their studies will include field interviews and social media analysis, which they will then combine to produce a final report, scheduled for completion in 2022.

“We are interested in all definitions of moderation, but we are also interested in the disagreements among Muslims about moderation,” Moll said. “There’s no one definition of moderation. Even among Muslims, this is always up for debate and disagreement.”

Hoesterey chose to study in Indonesia because of the country’s size and the practical benefits of working in a country with a single national language.

“Probably 98 percent of Indonesia speaks Indonesian,” Hoesterey said. “You can speak with hundreds of ethnic groups with very different histories [and] religious backgrounds.”

Hoesterey emphasized the importance of interdisciplinarity to the research project. The project team includes a historian, a political scientist and several cultural anthropologists with different specialities.

“Our approach to our discipline and our scholarship is already interdisciplinary, and what we want to do is bring in some other perspectives,” Hoesterey said.