Various analysts have defined Salafism as an “ideology of hate,” an “ideology of authoritarian, rationalized literalism,” or even a seemingly “nonpolitical ideology” that became a major political force. The use of such language is understandable. Contemporary Salafi scholars themselves tend to define Salafism as a total ideology of sorts—namely, as the allegedly soundest religious epistemology and purest understanding of Islam that provides guidance for every aspect of life. Yet this was not always the case. The articulation of Salafism as something of an ideology is relatively recent and reflects the changing conceptions of Islamic reform in the twentieth century. This talk examines the historical process by which Salafis came to be associated with a purist and comprehensive religious orientation that embraces the entire gamut of Islamic beliefs and practices, from theology to etiquette. It argues that today’s notion of Salafism is the result of a conceptual expansion that began in the 1920s. Understanding this process not only improves our knowledge of modern Islamic intellectual history, but resolves many apparent contradictions between past and present Salafis.
Henri Lauzière is Assistant Professor of History, Northwestern University. His research interests lie at the intersection of Islamic intellectual history and the modern political history of the Arab world, including North Africa.
This event is co-sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, the Islamic Legal Studies Program (Harvard Law School), the Prince Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program, and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.