An institute of Islamic studies is opening in Paris to carry out research into the Muslim world and provide continuing education, including courses for non academics.
The Institut d'Etudes des Societes du Monde Musulman is an offshoot of the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Ehess) and the outcome of an education ministry project started last spring. Lucette Valensi, director of studies at Ehess, is setting up the new institute, which will be officially inaugurated in March.
It will not treat the religion as a narrow specialisation. "There is wide diversity within Islam and it has to be studied in a historical and sociological context," said Ms Valensi. "Our specialists come from many disciplines - history, anthropology, political science, sociology, linguistics, economics and demography - and we hope to have programmes including people from different teams working together for teaching and research." Potential contributors will come not only from Ehess but other organisations such as CNRS, the national research and science centre, and Sciences Po, the political science institute.
The new institute will develop networks stretching nationwide and beyond. Other French centres of Islamic research include Strasbourg, which specialises in Turkish and urban studies, Lyons (Middle Ages) and Tours (political science), but Ms Valensi said the capital had been chosen for the new body "because France is very centralised and Paris has most resources - scholars and libraries. For 20 years reports commissioned by ministers of both right and left on the fragmented studies of Islam have said they should all be gathered together."
International links already exist for cooperation and exchanges with centres in countries including Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon and India.