Key Facts

Principal Investigator: 

  • Dr. Jörn Thielmann, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) / Erlangen Centre for Islam & Law in Europe (EZIRE)

Research assistant:

  • Charlotte Jawurek
  • Tina Brosi
  • Dr. Fatma Aydinli
  • Dr. Ertuğrul Şahin
  • Katharina Weinmann
  • Inken Okrug
  • Katharina Weinmann
  • Dr. Serdar Aslan

Duration: 09/2020 – 08/2024


Subproject 1: Prof. Dr. habil. Dr. Patricia Wiater-Hellgardt (FAU)
Subproject 2: Prof. Dr. Tarek Badawia (FAU)
Subproject 3: Prof. Thomas Schmitt (Heidelberg University)
Subproject 4: Dr. Stephanie Müssig (EZIRE)
Subproject 5: Nina Nowar (EZIRE)
Subproject 6: Dr. Jörn Thielmann (EZIRE)

Organigram (German)



Practice Partners

  • Centre for Human Rights Erlangen-Nürnberg (CHREN) (Website)
  • Central Institute for Regional Reserach
  • Max-Planck-Institut for Ethnological Research in Halle (Website)

Interdependencies of Islamist radicalisation and the societal and political context (Interdependencies / Wechselwirkungen)

Examine societal causes and effects of Islamism in Germany and Europe

How do Muslims perceive the changes in policies, discourses, and practices triggered by Islamist radicalisation? How do they react, internally and externally? What is actually discussed, what is taught, what is preached in Muslim milieus? Even though appraisals of this are circulating in the public, there is hardly any empirically validated, scholarly knowledge about it. The research project closes this gap and analyzes the interactions between politics, society, and Muslim citizens in Germany. It is the first to focus consistently on the Muslim perspective on Islamist radicalisation. In six domains, the project examines the mutual influence of actors from politics, society, and Muslim communities. The main focus lies on the interactions that arise from Islamist radicalisation and the reactions to it, for example on the political, legal, policing, or societal level.

The project employs transdisciplinary methods: The subprojects work with qualitative as well as quantitative social science research, text-hermeneutic methods or comparative law. The findings are continuously and systematically transferred to the non-scientific public, allowing new problems to be identified and questions to be generated through dialogue. This linkage back to practice and the areas of study is realized through various formats accompanying the research, including workshops, briefings, and facilitated encounters. The understanding of the interactions being researched should enable actors from politics, administration, security, justice, and civil society to take targeted and appropriate measures for deradicalisation and prevention. In addition, cooperation with Muslim communities - who are natural partners - ensures the effectiveness and sustainability of the measures taken.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the legal and political framework in the so-called fight against terrorism has been steadily tightened worldwide. In their powers, legislators, authorities, and courts signal their willingness not only to react to actual terrorist threats, but also to reduce terrorist risks with the concept of "precautionary security policy." This means that the punishability of terrorist perpetrators is advanced in time and extended in substance, as are the security authorities' powers of surveillance and intervention and the deportation of foreign terrorist suspects. One "cascade effect" of such a concept of preventive security that is accepted politically and legally is that the group of people affected by security measures increases. It also affects the fundamental and human rights of Muslims who either do not affiliate with radicalised Islam or, as in the context of the deportation order under migration law, "merely" sympathize with it.

Therefore, in a first step, the project analyses fundamental and human rights strains that anti-terrorism measures impose on the addressees and on affected third parties. Particular attention is paid to whether and to what extent specific fundamental and human rights strains on Muslims can be identified, which will be systematized in the study under the term "cascade effects" and evaluated on the basis of fundamental and human rights standards.

In the course of the trial phase to date, Islamic religious education (IRE) has become a sensitive area of negotiation in which disparate expectations and demands of the state and the Muslim community clash. According to the project's initial thesis, there is a threat of a crisis of trust between the state and the Muslim community, which could spark a potential for radicalisation. Therefore, this subproject deals with the important question of preventive or radicalising effects of Islamic religious education in German schools from an educational science perspective. The dynamics of this interaction will be empirically assessed on the basis of three dimensions of problem perception among Muslims. The following three dimensions describe the problem of acceptance in the Muslim community and, at the same time, the possibilities and limits of preventing Islamism through the institutionalization of IRE:

  1. The controversy over the (in)feasibility of IRE fosters the development of perceived unequal treatment and even structural discrimination among Muslim communities. Many Muslims experience the unresolved status of IRE as a rejection of their interests and needs.
  2. The euphoria about this new school subject has always been accompanied by deep skepticism about the denominational character of IRE. For the subproject, important questions arise as to whether parents and associations and their theologies are reflected in the respective IRE.
  3. The professionalism of the Islamic teachers proved to be a very urgent practical problem after the trial period. The temporary legal (special) status of IRE enormously complicates the position of teachers of Islam. The questions of "theological competence," of "teaching permission" (iğāza), and of "theological interpretive authority" can lead to challenging tensions and questioning of an Islam teacher's expertise in the school context.

The project investigates the acceptance problems of IRE based on these three dimensions with case studies in eight German states. Thus, the great diversity of the organization of IRE is accounted for. Twenty-six cities were selected following a preliminary inquiry with the relevant authorities.

In a first step, the project explores interactions or possible co-radicalisation processes in urban societies, namely those between anti-Muslim actors and radical Islamic groups, as well as their effects on other areas of urban society, in particular also on other Muslim groups. For this purpose, these processes will first be assessed by discourse analyses as well as by individual and group interviews. The consequences of related co-radicalisations or interactions in different Muslim milieus are also of interest. In the next step, the project turns to a variety of communication, processing, and moderation formats that have been set up, for example, in response to radicalisation processes. These are accompanied, among other things, by methods of participant observation. The project focuses on four urban regions in Dresden, Erfurt, Frankfurt a. M. and Mannheim/Ludwigshafen. Both East and West German contexts are intentionally taken into account.

The project's second line of research and analysis uses the experiences of the urban regions as a starting point to address the question of possibilities and conditions for a socially productive criticism of Islam: a criticism of Islam that openly addresses problem areas, but at the same time does not support (co-)radicalisation processes. The evaluations from the urban studies will be discussed with experts from different fields of activity and reflected on with regard to their generalizability and transferability. Participants will be persons from the fields of dialogue work and extremism prevention, interdisciplinary scholars, Muslims, as well as critics of Islam. In a final empirical phase, approaches derived from these considerations will be tested in simulation games.

The feeling of being discriminated against, rejected, and treated with hostility has real consequences. For example, people who experience it tend to have low self-esteem and more dissatisfaction with their lives. Furthermore, studies confirm that experiences of discrimination are associated with changes in attitudes and behaviour.

Muslims feel discriminated against more often than other population groups in Germany, with systemic discrimination being in the foreground. Compared to discrimination on a personal level, this leads to a stronger withdrawal of trust in social and political institutions, dissatisfaction with the political system or questioning of democratic norms and values. Therefore, it is important to know the connection between systemic discrimination and attitudes, emotions, and ways of acting, and to have a grasp of the micro analytical (social-)psychological processes that underlie this connection. So far, however, there is a lack of data available from Germany examining the effects of perceived systemic discrimination on changes in attitudes and behaviour among Muslims. In particular, there is no evidence of a causal relationship.

The subproject investigates this with a randomized control experiment - the first in Germany to use an experimental setting.

In the eyes of the public, Islamic Internet forums are primarily associated with radical Islam or understood as potential places for radicalisation and the dissemination of propaganda. In this respect, the public perception of Islamic online forums poses a problem for Muslims, most of whom are not involved in the radical scene, insofar as their digital communication is seen as a site of potential radicalisation as well and is met with mistrust.

This project focuses on various German-speaking Facebook groups for Muslim women, which are not intended for exchanges about Islam, but rather for exchanges about everyday topics, including household and home design, cooking, and weight loss. The study explores on which topics - such as marriage, child care, or education - and in what form Islamic norms are set in these groups. The central question is how the Muslim women's community reacts to Islamic norms and which arguments and sources are used in the discussion. In the process, Muslim women are not stigmatized as potential victims or perpetrators according to common stereotypes, but their potential as members of mainstream society is valued. For this analysis, the individuality of the speakers recedes into the background. The women's chat histories are analyzed with the aim of identifying new possibilities for online prevention work based on how the German-speaking Muslim community itself deals with Islamic norm-setting.

The aim of the study is to pick up on inner-Islamic communication patterns and use them to gain practical insights into gender- and religion-sensitive prevention work. The project will produce a qualitative content analysis and an online ethnography of various Facebook groups of Muslim women. Expert interviews provide additional practical information for the development of recommendations for action.

In the public eye, Islamic sermons in Germany are often regarded as a source of radicalisation. Muslim associations, on the other hand, see them as its antidote. Despite their importance for Islamic religious life, Islamic sermons have hardly been studied academically so far, even in a global context, but have rather been the subject of journalistic presentation. This subproject addresses the necessary socio-political debate and the complexity of the topic with a systematic, methodological, and interdisciplinary scientific analysis of Friday sermons. In this way, associated problems can be better understood and reforms regarding their content can be worked on (with Islamic theologians, imams, and Muslim associations).

The project compares whether the sermons dictated by the associations are actually held nationwide or whether, for example, own content or the sermons of the Turkish Diyanet are used. Additionally, the study systematically examines whether the Turkish and German versions of the respective Friday sermons differ from each other. In focus group interviews with Muslims and Islamic theologians, excerpts from the sermons will be discussed in order to develop recommendations for action for Muslim associations as well as for policy makers at the end of the project.

The sermons collected for the purpose of this analysis will be compiled in a systematically indexed sermon archive and made publicly accessible at the end of the project.

Film "Project Wechselwirkungen" | Duration 1"56' | Production Ute Seitz // Philipp Offermann // Sophie Senf | PRIF 2023


How do social discourses on Islamism affect Muslim communities? What consequences do anti-radicalisation measures have for them? The project "Wechselwirkungen" (Interactions) explores this question from a variety of perspectives. In this interview, principal investigator Dr. Jörn Thielmann highlights the importance of representing views from Muslim communities. He also talks about collaboration in an interdisciplinary research consortium and shares some first insights from the project.Read more.