Changing Structures of Islamic Authority

Changing Structures of Islamic Authority and Consequences for Social Change (CSIA) is a five-year research project that brings together Islamic textual scholars, ethnographers and survey specialists to map the competing theological positions of today’s leading Islamic authorities, to examine their real-life consequences, and to explore why young Muslims follow one authority over another.


Empirically focussed on studying changes within leading institutions of Islamic learning, it has a strong theoretical focus on refining the theory of informal institutions – such as religious beliefs, social values and cultural norms – and their relationship with development processes. The project also examines the processes of persistence and change within informal institutions. While the role of institutions in explaining the development trajectories followed by different societies has been well established with the pioneering work of Douglass C North, there is still very limited theoretical understanding of the exact nature of the relationship between informal institutions and development, despite consensus on its importance. Some important theoretical questions include:

1) Is institutional path dependence particularly difficult to reverse in the case of informal institutions?

2) What societal shifts trigger change in informal institutions; and are such changes incremental or sudden?

3) What strategies do old institutional elites employ to resist institutional change; and what societal contexts are most conducive to the emergence of new elites?

The project examines these processes of persistence and change within informal institutions by focussing on understanding how different Islamic authority structures are responding to the changing demands of a more educated Muslim youth living in today’s highly globalised world. It also aims to illuminate the changing preferences and aspirations of today’s young Muslims and the decision-making processes and considerations which cause them to choose one Islamic authority over another.

Further information

Research enquiries:


Tel: +44 (0)1865 271924

General and events enquiries:


Tel: +44 (0)1865 271529