The Islamic Cultures and Societies Research Unit (ICSRU) is a trans-disciplinary research unit for all those at Aarhus University who are interested in Islamic cultures and societies, both in the Islamic world and transregionally. This means that the ICSRU also covers Islam and Muslims in the West, notably Europe and Denmark.
The area of interest of the ICSRU is defined in terms of a religion (Islam), but this does not mean that the ICSRU is only interested in the study of religion. There is a focus on the study of Islam, but there is also interest in the study of phenomena unrelated to religion, especially from the perspective of political science.
As well as a focus on the study of Islam, there is a focus on modern and contemporary phenomena, and on those that are transregional, but again this is not exclusive.
The central mission of the ICSRU is to provide a stimulating research milieu for both senior and junior researchers by promoting discussion and exchange. In addition, the ICSRU provides a forum for generating and carrying through group research projects. Finally, the ICSRU backs Aarhus University’s teaching, notably in the degree programs in Arab and Islamic Studies, but also in other relevant programs.
The ICSRU is open to all interested researchers at Aarhus University. Membership varies from year to year, but generally consists of about 10 senior researchers from various fields and up to 10 junior researchers, ranging from PhDs to adjunkter, pre-tenure assistant professors.
The main school represented in the ICSRU is the School of Culture and Society in the Faculty of Arts, which contributes researchers teaching in programs in Arab and Islamic Studies, the Study of Religion, and Anthropology. The ICSRU also includes researchers from the Danish School of Education (also part of the Faculty of Arts) and from the Department of Political Science and Government in the School of Business and Social Sciences.
The ICSRU as a whole holds regular research workshops and organizes guest presentations and lectures. It also participates in the organization of regional PhD workshops along with other institutions in Denmark, Sweden and Germany.
Individual members of the ICSRU work on a variety of individual research projects, which they sometimes discuss with other members of the ICSRU during research workshops. Members of the ICSRU also work on group research projects, both with members drawn primarily from the ICSRU and with members drawn primarily from outside Aarhus University.
The main group project currently related to the ICSRU is SWAR - Sectarianism in the Wake of the Arab Revolts. Two other group research projects have recently been completed: one on Islam and Muslims in Danish public schools, and one on Sufism and transnational spirituality. These were all funded from major external grants.
The ICSRU was established in 2007 as a research unit for Arab and Islamic Studies (AIS); it changed its name from AIS to ICSRU in 2011 when it was incorporated into the new School of Culture and Society in the new Faculty of Arts as a result of the general reorganization of Aarhus University.
The study of Islamic Cultures and Societies at Aarhus University, however, goes back to 1939, when Harald Ingholt, who had studied Semitic and Oriental Philology at Copenhagen University and led the Danish archeological expedition to Hama, Syria, 1931-38, was appointed at Aarhus (to teach Hebrew). Ingholt left Denmark for America in 1941, and spent the rest of his career at Yale. No more fieldwork was carried out in the Arab world by scholars from Aarhus until 1953, when Peter Vilhelm Glob and T. Geoffrey Bibby set off for Bahrain, where Bibby subsequently discovered the ancient city of Dilmun, as described in his best-selling Looking for Dilmun. Then, in 1959, the ethnographer Klaus Ferdinand and the photographer Jette Bang visited the bedouin of Qatar. An Institute for Semitic Philology was established in 1963 under Professor Erling Hammershaimb, formerly of Copenhagen University. Hammershaimb was primarily an expert in Ugaritic and Hebrew, but also worked on early Islam and on Ibn Khaldun.
After some thirty years of existence, the Institute for Semitic Philology was combined with the Department for the Study of Religion, in 1994. The Department for the Study of Religion was merged into the School of Culture and Society in 2011.