Skip to main content


Islam, Secularism, and Security in Central Asia and Beyond

1 September 2014 - 31 August 2015

PI/s in Exeter: Professor John Heathershaw

Research partners: Dr. David W. Montgomery, CEDAR-Communities Engaging with Difference and Religion (US PI); Dr. Marlene Laruelle, Central Asia Program, George Washington University; Prof. Adam B. Seligman, CEDAR-Communities Engaging with Difference and Religion; Mr James Nixey, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House); Prof. Robert Gleave, Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter

Funding awarded: £ 14,691

Sponsor(s): The British Council

About the research

Two workshops are being organised between the Universities of George Washington and Exeter with additional partnership from Communities Engaging with Difference and Religion (CEDAR, and Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs). The dialogues consider the place of political Islam in Muslim-majority states which have undergone significant experiences of secularization.  The first dialogue took place at Chatham House in London in November 2014 and the second will take place in April 2015 in Washington DC. The grant was awarded to John Heathershaw by the British Council.

The purpose of the dialogues are to begin a public debate about the implications of Islam and secularism for security relations in Central Asia and beyond.  In particular, we consider a variety of contexts including those of Central Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and South-East Asia.  Our case studies are Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Indonesia.     We address four sets of questions (the first two in the London workshop; the second two in Washington):

  1. How do governments in Muslim-majority secular states draw the line between ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ Islam in both policy discourse and state practice?  What are the historical, geographical and ethical contexts of secular security policy with respect to political Islam?  
  2. How do foreign states and international actors respond to these discourses and practices?  Do they challenge or affirm them?  How do they address the relationship between radical Islam and more secular iterations of Islam?
  3. How do the relations between political Islam and more privatized variants of Islam get negotiated by civil society organizations which may or may not situate themselves in the categories set forth by state authority or individual responsibility?  In particular, what are the challenges faced by secularised Islamic political parties in environments of contention between secular governments and Islamist groups?
  4. How are these differences negotiated in everyday life?  How far is political Islam identified as a threat in popular discourse and practice? And how do the security responses of the state to perceived threats impact secularised Muslims?

Rather than standard academic paper presentations, the format of the dialogues is be structured to optimize collaboration and discussion. The organizers have asked participants, prior to arrival, to think through the question sets that will drive the particular workshop and come prepared to present their research in relation to those questions. Each workshop includes three types of discussion: 1) country-specific discussions; 2) theme-specific discussions; and 3) a public event open to a much wider audience.  Key outputs include the publication of up to 16 commentary pieces by participants across various traditional and new media outlets and think tanks (such as openDemocracy, the Foreign Policy Centre, the Guardian New East Network, Al Jazeera etc), as well as a Chatham House report by the investigators, 'The Myth of Post-Soviet Radicalization in Central Asia, the link to which can be found here: