Organization for Islamic Area StudiesWaseda University

Research Activities

The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Core-to-Core Program, B.Asia-Africa Science Platforms

Reconciling Cultural Values in Multicultural Environments: Developmental Studies for Coexistence with Islam

The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) has approved an Asia-Africa Science Platform Program research project on reconciling divergent cultural values in multicultural environments. This project, based at the Waseda University Organization for Islamic Area Studies, is an offshoot of a previous 3-year JSPS Asia-Africa Science Platform Program research project on Islam and multiculturalism that ran from 2011 to 2013.

Islam and Multiculturalism
A Fundamental Research Project for Constructing Symbiosis with Islam

We are pleased to announce that the proposal for an “Islam and Multiculturalism: A Fundamental Research Project for Constructing Symbiosis with Islam” project based at Waseda University’s Organization for Islamic Area Studies has been accepted by the JSPS’s Asia & Africa Science Platform Program.

Please refer to the following web site for an overview of the JSPS’s Asia & Africa Science Platform Program.

http://www.jsps.go.jp/english/e-asia/e-acore/aaplat.html

This “Islam and Multiculturalism” project will be implemented in academic year 2011 as follows.

  • It will be structured into two research offices, in Japan and Malaysia.
  • The Japan-side research office will be located at Waseda University’s Organization for Islamic Area Studies.
  • The Malaysia-side research office will be located at the University of Malaya’s Asia-Europe Institute.

The Project

The “Islam and Multiculturalism” project has three objectives.

  1. Understanding the background and current status of Islam vis-a-vis multiculturalism.
  2. Building a bridge between modern science and Islam.
  3. Laying the groundwork for a model for coexistence with Islam.

Note the choice of Malaysia as a counterpart for the first objective, “understanding the background and current status of Islam vis-a-vis multiculturalism”. In Malaysia, multiculturalism is a matter of national policy. But at the same time, Islam forms the nucleus of cultural policy in Malaysia. Multiple ethnicities and cultures already coexistence there. This research project’s counterpart office at University of Malaya’s Asia-Europe Institute has previously gathered a wealth of information on Malaysian multiculturalism, which is the core of their ongoing work.

Malaysia is the home of indigenous peoples, as well as merchants from the coast of China, and South Indians who arrived via a long-standing network of marine trade routes. Moreover, it is home to the peoples of the states of Sarawak and Sabah on the island of Borneo. Separated from the Malaysian peninsula, these states have their own cultural traditions and strong ties to Western Europe as former British colonies. Having maintained separate identities in the midst of such religious and historic diversity, they have a learned wisdom on peaceful coexistence. In the Islamic world, even the Middle East and the coastal regions, the existence of such an Islam so strongly tied to multiculturalism is worthy of special attention.

Yet, at the same time Malaysia has been dealing with these ongoing multicultural issues, it has undergone internationalization and has lead the economic development of South-east Asia. It is also noteworthy as a member of the international community that has toed the line of globalism.

Today, symbiosis with Islam is of course an issue faced by not just Malaysia and Japan, but the world at large. With ongoing rumblings of conflict with Islam, and Islamic “fundamentalism” in particular, an understanding of the historical ties between the international community and all Islamic regions, including the Middle East and South-east Asia, is indispensable in considering coexistence with Islam from a global standpoint. Coastal nations in particular attract workers with varying ethnicities and religions from countries around the world, which raises the issue of how these diverse cultural traditions can live together in peace. Among the Persian Gulf nations, the Qatar campus of Georgetown University is known as a leading institution for international political studies. With the cooperation of its scholars, we will examine the relationship between all Islamic areas and the international community.

A scientific examination of the past and present of multiculturalism in Malaysia, and a broader examination of all Islamic areas (including Persian Gulf states like Qatar) and their relationships to the international community, will provide hints for constructing a model for symbiosis with Islam. This first objective will be the focus of our work in 2011. But, bearing in mind the overarching theme of “Islam and Multiculturalism: A Fundamental Research Project for Constructing Symbiosis with Islam”, this work will continue into 2012 and beyond.

In regards to the second objective, “building a bridge between modern science and Islam”, the application of Islamic law and ethics to modern science is causing a great deal of debate in the Islamic world, not just about the chemical composition of food and medicine, but about topics like genetic engineering, cutting-edge medical techniques, and the global environment. But, at the same time, these are also hot topics for the international community at large.

While there are very few Muslims in Japan, Islamic countries do have strong ties to Japan as trading partners and tourist destinations. In contrast, multi-ethnic Malaysia, despite Islam forming the core of its cultural policies, has seen remarkable economic growth for a South-east Asian country. Putting these together, an examination of Islam’s stance on modern science is uniquely positioned to bring out meaningful academic exchange between Japan and Malaysia.

Through joint research and exchange of opinions with scholars in Malaysia, an advanced Islamic South-east Asia country, we can start to formulate plans for an academic bridge between modern science and Islam. In 2011, we will start the planning to make this second goal a main theme of our joint research. In 2012, we will begin to implement those plans. In regards to the third objective, “laying the groundwork for a model for coexistence with Islam”, the Waseda University Organization for Islamic Area Studies, as a Japanese base for Islamic area studies, is moving forward with multi-faceted research on topics from the thought that underlies Islamic law, to the particularities of life in different Islamic regions.

Capitalizing on these strengths, we will use the multi-faceted analysis (begun in 2011) of Malaysian multiculturalism’s history, current state, and place in the world, and the analysis (begun in 2012) of Islam’s handling of modern science, to lay the groundwork (in the final year of 2013) for construction of a model of symbiosis with Islam.

With this as our base, and through ongoing research, our goal is to establish an international center for Islamic understanding in Japan.

Participating Organizations:

  • In Japan: Organization for Islamic Area Studies, Waseda University
  • In Malaysia: Asia-Europe Institute, University of Malaya
  • In the UAE: New York University – Abu Dhabi

The Project

Overview of Current Research Work (2014-2016)

This project comprises developmental research towards coexistence with Islam based on the findings of the JSPS Asian & African Studies program’s Islam and Multiculturalism: Basic Research towards Coexistence with Islam project. With the goal of improved coexistence with Islam, this project will attempt to better understand how groups and individuals with divergent cultural values interact and reconcile their differences in various multicultural contexts. Our objectives for 2014 to 2016 are as follows.

  • 2014: Groundwork for Multicultural Studies based on the Findings of the Cultural Pluralism with Islam Research Project
  • 2015: Globalization in Islam
  • 2016: A Model for Reconciling Cultural Values

1) 2014: Groundwork for Multicultural Studies based on the Findings of the Cultural Pluralism with Islam Research Project (in Southeast Asian, Gulf State, and South Asian regions)

Our previous 3-year Asian & African Studies collaborative research project explored coexistence with Islam through the multiculturalism of Malaysia. The findings of that project showed the limits of multiculturalism as an ideology, but also the wisdom about coexistence that comes from living in a multicultural environment. With that in mind, we are targeting three areas for our next project: 1) Southeast Asia, which has an ongoing historically multicultural environment that includes Muslims, 2) the Persian Gulf states, a Muslim environment that has had multiculturalism thrust upon it with the influx of foreigners that accompanied oil money in the late 20th century, and 3) South Asia, which is expected to rapidly grow as a multicultural environment with an ever-expanding Muslim population. In our developmental research, we pursue three hypotheses about living together with Muslims: 1) the safeguard of ambiguity in judgments based on cultural values, 2) the diversification of values systems, and 3) the reciprocation of tolerant acceptance. To confirm these three hypotheses, we have structured our research into four research groups, each reflecting a place where different cultural values systems come together and interact: 1) halal standards, 2) international travel, 3) multi-national discussions, and 4) habitats. Each group will synthesize past research, ascertain the diversity of their respective multicultural environment, and create research conditions that allow the confirmation of the three hypotheses.

2) 2015: Globalization in Islam

We will clarify aspects of globalization in Islam through our four groups researching halal standards, international travel, multi-national discussions, and habitats. We will examine changes to standardization and globalization seen in the different multicultural contexts of East Asian, Southeast Asian, and Gulf State regions. As halal standards become an issue in the industrial world, and the dogmatic and scientific measures of halal become more unified, we will advance the search for global standards and international cooperation as varying standards are implemented across the world. We will explore the nature of globalization by focusing on the diversity of halal standards. With global travel, the cultures and distinctive values held by minority populations are disappearing amid majority populations. We want to particularly focus on the lifestyles of migrant laborers in the predominantly Muslim Gulf States, and those of the Muslim minorities in East Asia. In terms of multi-national discussions, we have seen attempts at international networks, but they have yet to advance past the power politics of sovereign states. Examining the discussions and the historical changes in the environments and resources of East and Southeast Asia and the Gulf States reveals problems that exist in the present day. Habitats are a place where people encounter multiculturalism on a personal level. The spread of globalization through World Heritage Sites, the global environment, and other concerns, brings with it increasing multiculturalism through the interactions of different religions, ethnicities, and languages. We will take another look at globalization, with the lives of individuals as the focal point.

3) 2016: A Model for Reconciling Cultural Values

We will empirically investigate three hypotheses regarding living together with Muslims: 1) the safeguard of ambiguity in judgments based on cultural values, 2) the diversification of values systems, and 3) the reciprocation of tolerant acceptance, through four aspects: halal standards, international travel, multi-national discussions, and habitats. Based on those findings, we will propose a conceptual model for the reconciliation of values in contexts with divergent values systems. This model is the end goal of our developmental studies on coexistence with Islam.

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