Max-Planck-Institut für ethnologische Forschung
Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology is one of the leading centres for research in social anthropology. Common to all research projects at the Max Planck Institute is the comparative analysis of social change; it is primarily in this domain that its researchers contribute to anthropological theory, though many programmes also have applied significance and political topicality.

The DFG Emmy Noether Junior Research Group: ‘The Bureaucratization of Islam and its Socio-Legal Dimensions in Southeast Asia’, led by Dr. Dominik M. Müller, is offering

3 PhD positions
starting 1 April 2017

Following the popular waves of Islamic resurgence, state-sponsored Islamic bureaucracies have become influential societal actors in Southeast Asia, particularly in countries where Muslim populations play a significant political role. The governments of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have in diverse ways empowered ‘administrative’ bodies to guide Islamic discourse. Although their approaches, motivations and spheres of influence differ widely, they share the intention to formalize classificatory schemes of Islam and create binding rules for engaging in public communication about it. The Junior Research Group will investigate the bureaucratization of Islam and its socio-legal dimensions from an anthropological perspective, with a particular focus on the state's exercise of ‘classificatory power’ and its actual workings on the micro-level. The project argues that the bureaucratization of Islam far transcends the boundaries of its institutions. Focusing on diverse empirical contexts, the group will scrutinize how the imposition of formalized schemes of Islam – a transformation of Islam into the codes and procedures of bureaucracy – has socio-legal consequences that penetrate deeply into public discourse and the everyday lives of various affected social actors. The project also asks how the bureaucracies’ classificatory practices and micro-politics of power resonate with social realities among the wider population and how social actors actively react to them, always with the intention of going beyond unidirectional ‘cause–effect models’ that overstate the power of official policies. Conceptually, the project treats the bureaucratization of Islam not just descriptively as an empirical fact, but as a larger analytic phenomenon to be theorized in comparative perspective. Grounded in long-term fieldwork, focusing on actors' perspectives and positioned in anthropological debates, the project intends to generate a new, ethnographically grounded understanding of contemporary Islamic discourse in the context of state power in Southeast Asia, with implications beyond the region.

Your Profile
Interested applicants should submit a research proposal addressing this conceptual framework. They may, for example, propose ethnographic case studies of particular state- or semi-state-based Islamic institutions and analyze their ‘inner life’ vis-à-vis their socio-legal environment. They may also investigate the bureaucracies’ classificatory practices by conducting fieldwork among social actors who are directly affected by them. The project is open to any creative ideas and proposed field settings within Southeast Asia, and will support the PhD candidates in establishing initial contacts in their field sites. Although PhD candidates can choose whether to concentrate their empirical research on the bureaucracies themselves or on affected social actors, or approach the topic from another angle (e.g., by conducting an ‘ethnography of documents’), the group shares the intention of viewing the workings of Islamic bureaucracy from the inside to the extent that this is possible for anthropologists. The PhD candidates are free to use methods they consider appropriate, but are expected to apply ethnographic approaches. The three PhD projects will be conducted in a collaborative and reflexive relationship to each other throughout each phase of their production, using various group work formats and deliberative exchange.

Applicants should demonstrate a strong commitment to teamwork, be open to critical feedback, and be willing to position their individual research within a shared meta-conceptual framework. The project’s design requires its members to be highly motivated to finalize a fast-track, structured PhD project within three years, with a rather heavy, constant workload. Excellent academic writing and communication skills in English are essential. In addition, applicants should have intermediate or at least basic proficiency in the language(s) necessary to conduct fieldwork in their proposed field sites, as well as a strong commitment to systematically improving these language skills through, e.g., intense language training prior to and during fieldwork. Proven knowledge of, and ideally first-hand practical experience with qualitative research methods, particularly ethnographic methods, is desirable.

Candidates from disciplines other than Anthropology are encouraged to apply, but must credibly demonstrate the intention and ability to centrally integrate anthropological methods and questions into their project. Applicants should hold a Master’s degree in Anthropology or other relevant disciplines (e.g. Area Studies, Islamic Studies, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Socio-Legal Studies, Media Studies). Applicants from Southeast Asia are encouraged to consider conducting research in a country in the region other than their country of origin.

Our Offer
The PhD positions are awarded for three years. We expect our PhD students to complete an 11 months period of fieldwork over two stays in Southeast Asia as part of their studies.

The workplace is Halle/Saale (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany), except when undertaking field research.

The Max Planck Society strives to employ more persons with disabilities and explicitly encourages applications. Furthermore, the Max Planck Society is committed to raising the proportion of women in underrepresented fields; we thus explicitly encourage applications by women.

Applicants should send the following documentation:

Please submit your application electronically by 5 January 2017 following the link for vacancies on our homepage.

Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology
Personnel Administration
Nadine Wagenbrett

Informal enquiries may be directed to the project director, Dr. Dominik M. Müller (

We look forward to receiving your completed online application under .

We look forward to receiving your completed online application.

You may print the job advert using this link.

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