The value of moderation: language, emotion, and Islam in Jordan

Project summary

The value of moderation is often invoked in the abstract, but how is it practiced in everyday moments of moral and political crisis? This study seeks to understand how Jordanian Muslims consciously cultivate linguistic and emotional dispositions (both offline and online) to minimize the potential hazards of discord (fitna).

Project details

Location: Jordan

Year(s): 2020

Project director(s): Geoffrey Hughes

Lead institutions and funding:

  • CBRL

Project description

Jordan has long positioned itself as a leading proponent of “moderate” Islam—most notably, perhaps, in King Abdullah’s well-known “Amman Message” from 2005, which defines Islam as a religion of “equanimity, balance, moderation, and facilitation.” ‘Moderation’ (‘itidal, wasitiyya) and its opposites (extremism and discord) are also clearly of deep concern to Jordan’s citizenry as well.

During previous research on online behaviour in Jordan (Hughes 2018), interviewees were adamant about the dangers of discord (fitna). Social media was widely perceived to be a threat to moderation, with its ability to mobilize language to inflame emotions perceived to be particularly dangerous. Yet as Jillian Schwedler (2011) has shown, the concept of moderation in scholarship is often under-defined, taken to be self-evident, and imposed by Western analysts with little concern for the realities of local political dynamics. The proposed research seeks to understand how Jordanians mobilize pre-existing Islamic discourses of moderation to avoid discord and also to understand how the shift online and away from the privileged space of ‘face-to-face’ communication at the heart of classical Islamic discourse creates communicative and ethical dilemmas for pious Muslims. Most notably, an aversion to discord creates something of a paradox: while Muslims believe that sowing discord is contrary to the nature of Islam, to explicitly accuse someone of going against Islam (which, in the extreme, means calling someone an unbeliever and engaging in takfir) would itself seem to be an instance of sowing discord that goes against Islam. Thus indirectness becomes a linguistic value on par with moderation itself. Yet what are the dangers–and opportunities–of adapting structures of indirect speech developed for face-to-face interactions to online, effectively anonymous interactions, among relative strangers?

This research seeks to explore this communicative paradox using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, bringing together elements of participant observation, reflective interviewing, conversational analysis, coding exercises and the quantitative analysis of online data.

Project bibliography

Hughes, Geoffrey. 2021. The value of moderation: language, emotion, and Islam in Jordan. Bulletin of the Council for British Research in the Levant 2020, p 36-38.

Hughes, Geoffrey. 2018. Cutting the Face: Kinship, State, and Social Media Conflict in Networked Jordan. Journal of Legal Anthropology. 2(1), p 49-71.

Schwedler, Jillian. 2011. Can Islamists become moderates: Rethinking the inclusion-moderation hypothesis. World Politics, 63(2), p 347-376.