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ERC Consolidator Grant for Radhika Gupta to study transnational Islamic charitable networks

Radhika Gupta has received a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council to study how transnational Islamic charitable networks are entangled with Western humanitarianism and neoliberal welfare frameworks. Her research could potentially help us rethink the world of global aid.

Radhika Gupta is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology & Global Sociology at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology. The idea for this research project on transnational Islamic charity emerged from an ethnographic trail during Gupta's doctoral fieldwork in the Indian Himalayas, where she worked among Shia Muslims. After completing her PhD, she extended her research on transnational Shi‘i networks during a post-doctoral fellowship at the Max Planck Institute, focusing on Shia Muslim organisations in Mumbai. While researching these institutions, she found extensive charitable work being done by various Muslim organisations with links across the Indian Ocean and beyond.

From local mosques to civic initiatives for the public good

The charitable efforts of Muslim organisations went beyond local initiatives such as mosques or food kitchens; Muslim foundations have established hospitals, housing complexes and schools for modern education, which are not just limited to Islamic teachings. Gupta: "I found it surprising that these institutions, like schools and hospitals, were open to the wider community, including non-Muslims. It made me curious about how Islamic charity works on a larger scale in civic initiatives for the public good.

Exploring the impact of Islamic charity from Mumbai to Darussalam

While in Mumbai, Gupta learnt of historical links with East Africa and followed this up with preliminary research in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where she observed similar contributions by Islamic charities to schools, hospitals, housing, and other projects such as water and sanitation. Says Gupta: “People mentioned further links to Gulf countries, like Dubai. This led me to develop this project idea called 'Entangled universals of transnational Islamic charity', where I'm basically interested in understanding how Islamic charity is scaled up and contributes to the public good.”

Entangled Universals of Transnational Islamic Charities

Transnational Islamic charities, like many Western humanitarian institutions, claim to serve humanity.  "Anthropological scholarship has extensively critiqued the abstract notion of humanity, revealing categorisations that deem some more deserving of aid, particularly within Western secular humanitarian institutions, which sparked my interest in exploring these dynamics within transnational Islamic charity," says Gupta.

The contribution of transnational Islamic charity to global challenges

Historically, humanitarian and development initiatives have aimed to serve humanity, with aid flowing from the global North to the global South. However, Islamic charity, often perceived as exclusively Muslim, is not commonly associated with serving humanity. Gupta: "If you look at the brochures or websites of some of these Islamic charities, they also claim to serve humanity. There hasn't been much research done on Islamic charity. Islamic charities are now starting to work on issues like climate change, water and sanitation, things that we don't necessarily associate with Islamic charity. It has a lot of potential to address global challenges. The lines between charity, humanitarianism and development are increasingly blurred.”

The changing dynamics of global aid and the potential of Islamic charity

The importance of this topic lies in understanding the changing landscape of aid and charity, with the hypothesis that the dynamics of global aid are rapidly evolving and departing from past patterns. Bilateral aid from Western countries to the global South has been gradually decreasing, with implications for multilateral agencies such as the United Nations World Food Programme, which is facing funding shortages. Islamic charity is seen as having the potential to address global needs and work with multilateral agencies.

The Research Project Entangled Universals of Transnational Islamic Charity

The research project "Entangled Universals of Transnational Islamic Charity" will begin between June and September 2024 and will run for five years. The team comprises Radhika Gupta, a postdoctoral fellow, as well as two PhD students, who will carry out ethnographic fieldwork in India and Tanzania. The post-doctoral researcher, who will bridge anthropology and religious studies, will explore notions of humanity and humanitarianism in Islamic traditions. Gupta will oversee the coordination and conduct macro-level transnational research examining the links between the Global North and the Global South, focusing on major Islamic charities headquartered in the UK, California, and the Gulf. The ERC Consolidator Grant for this project is up to two million euros.

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