Date of Award

August 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Mehrzad Boroujerdi


Contentious Politics, Middle East, Political Islam, Radicalism, Salafism, Social Movements

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


In which ways do intellectuals affect social and political mobilization? How do they impact the trajectory of contention – the kind of mobilization and its developments - through their ideological work? Prominent intellectuals seem to play a relevant role in contentious politics, yet this role is still undertheorized. In this project, I analyze this question in the context of contemporary Arab Salafism, a particularly literal interpretation of Sunni Islam. I seek to unpack the processes by which prominent Islamist intellectuals impact and shape two Salafi currents originating and operating across Jordan during the 1990s and beyond. The first current is labeled 'Quietist' Salafism, as its members engage mostly in preaching, proselytizing and provision of social services; they refrain from direct political activities or overt confrontation with state authorities. The second current is known as 'Jihadi' Salfism, and espouses instead a confrontational and at times violent stance vis à vis state power. I posit that Islamist intellectuals in both instances impact mobilization in similar ways through three main mechanisms: diffusion, whereby they facilitate the spreading and transmission of ideas and concepts formulated elsewhere; elaboration, whereby they build upon the existing body of knowledge on a given subject, providing novel insights, interpretations or at times formulating new ideas altogether; and systematization, whereby they (re)organize the otherwise relatively fragmented or incoherent worldview of their followers and acolytes. Together, these mechanisms compound into a process that I call ‘the social appropriation of tradition', by which group members, harking back to elements belonging to a shared and exemplar tradition, rearticulate the central aims of the group to include sustained social and political mobilization. In this way we may properly locate the intellectual efforts of prominent thinkers within a theoretical framework, parsing out and assessing their contribution to episodes of political contention.


Open Access