Toby Volkman and the Luce Foundation’s Program on Religion and International Affairs

This week, Toby Volkman announced the ending of The Luce Foundation’s Initiative on Religion and International Affairs. I wanted to express our profound gratitude to Volkman and Luce for their early and ongoing support to the Project on Middle East Political Science. Volkman’s leadership of the RIA program has been transformative for the field, as her own reflections amply attest, and has impacted the research trajectory and intellectual ambitions of virtually every scholar working within that space.  The RIA Initiative’s impact goes far deeper and wider than any one project.  It has helped to build a wide range of interlocking projects and programs which feed on each other, generating profound intellectual synergies and dynamic new research programs which have collectively vastly improved our understanding of the role of religion in world politics.

Luce began supporting POMEPS shortly after its creation, allowing us to create a rich, robust pillar within POMEPS dedicated to the study of Islam and politics in the Middle East and beyond.  Workshops supported by Luce led directly to the publication of fourteen POMEPS STUDIES collections: The New Salafi Politics; The Politics of SectarianismRethinking Islamist PoliticsIslamist Social ServicesIslamism in the IS Age; Islam and International OrderEvolving Methodologies in the Study of IslamismNew Islamic Media; Adaptation Strategies of Islamist Movements; Islamist Politics at the Local LevelShia Islamist PoliticsThe Politics of Islam in Europe and North AmericaReligion, Violence and the State in Iraq; Sectarianism and International Relations.  The range of topics and the number of scholars engaged in the workshops and debates attest to the growth of the interdisciplinary and political science study of Islamism, especially after the transformative impact of the 2011 Arab uprisings.

Luce support to POMEPS also led to the publication of a special issue on Islamist movements in the journal Middle East Law and Governance. Looking ahead, its workshops are supporting a book on the evolution of Islamist movements in protracted warscapes and a project comparing Sunni and Shia Islamism. It also allowed us to provide dozens of small research grants to junior scholars, advancing their research at a critical career stage.  And, of course, it also supported the production of public-facing essays on religion and politics for Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel and The Washington Post’s The Monkey Cage, and episodes of the Middle East Political Science Podcast.

As we went about these projects, POMEPS constantly found partners supported by Luce with whom we could exchange ideas, identify potential contributors, and (often) collaborate.  From individual scholars working with Luce support to large scale group programs, Luce-supported projects populated an emergent field, taking it to intellectually rich and productive places which had in the past been neglected.  The study of religion in the Middle East would be far more impoverished without the efforts of Toby Volkman and the Luce program on Religion and International Affairs.  On behalf of the entire POMEPS network, I would like to express our deep thanks for her support, thoughtful engagement and commitment.


Marc Lynch

The George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs

Director of POMEPS