Filling a void in the discourse
Members of the media who deal with topics concerning Islam and Muslims all face the same problem. In trying to sort fact from fiction, it is difficult to find specialists who are willing to answer questions – and not just on camera. Journalists are therefore often forced to rely on the same old set of supposed "experts", despite being aware that a willingness to give interviews and make statements doesn’t necessarily mean you have the requisite expertise.
The Academy for Islam in Research and Society (AIWG) intends to change all that. The institute officially began its work in Frankfurt am Main in the autumn of 2017, its first goal being to build a database of experts on Islam.
Anyone from the media looking for experts to comment on Islamic theology or on Muslim practices and everyday issues should now have an easier time finding them. The database will comprise Islamic theologians and scholars who conduct research and teach at German universities. In addition, the AIWG plans to offer media training courses to instruct this group of specialists on how to deal with journalists.
Supplying a factual basis for public discourse
The Academy wants to contribute to "objectivising the public discourse on Islam". As unwieldy and abstract as the institute's name may sound, and as difficult as it is at first to ascertain what its acronym stands for, the AIWG is certainly one-of-a-kind in Germany.
As a university platform for research and knowledge transfer in matters both academic and social relating to Islamic theology, the Academy aims to promote Islamic theological research, foster exchange between the academic realm and civil society – and in particular to encourage more objectivity when discussing Islamic issues.
All of this is to be accomplished through programmes and projects that are conceived based on "intensive and far-reaching discussions with Islamic theologians, scholars and representatives of Muslim civil society". "We are filling a void that has hitherto existed," explains Jan Felix Engelhardt, AIWG's managing director.
The AIWG co-ordinates and promotes research activities by scholars from the ten universities in Germany that conduct Islamic theological studies on topics related to Islam and religion. As an "interface between theology, academia and society", it also finances various formats for communication among academics, as well as between academics and members of Muslim civil society.