"The Cold War was a global conflict that not only shaped Europe, but also had an impact on policy in the Middle East," says Dr. Timothy Nunan, a researcher at the Friedrich Meinecke Institute of History, Freie Universität Berlin. There, the conflict led to a confrontation between socialism and political Islam. "Since the 1960s, Sunnis and Shiites have been arguing about how they could overcome the secular, socialist, and often pro-Soviet governments in their home countries." The leaders of these movements were at loggerheads in religious matters, but united in their rejection of socialism. In the following years, Islamic internationalism was strengthened, led by clergy and the Muslim World League. At the end of the 1970s, they had their first major political successes: in 1979 the Shiites took over power in Iran, and in 1989 Islamic fighters contributed to the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan.
"In my research I aim to go beyond the existing research on the history of the Cold War bipolarity between the capitalist West and the socialist East," says Dr. Timothy Nunan. "I wish to clarify how U.S.-Soviet antagonism created new spaces for Islamic actors in the Middle East and how the consequences are still felt in global politics to this day." Nunan anticipates that by 2021 he will publish a book on the subject, based on his research in this project.
Through its Freigeist Fellowships the Volkswagen Foundation supports junior scholars who during the first five years after completing a doctorate, address research topics that they expect will open up new horizons. The researchers should combine critical analytical skills with exceptional perspectives and problem-solving approaches. The young scholars are encouraged to break new ground and to overcome resistance from established research fields or approaches. With ensured funding for five years as well as the possibility of supplemental funds and follow-up funding, the researchers are to be given an opportunity to build up their own research profile. The range of topics is wide. This year it extends from secret services and the Cold War to biodiversity, electronic implants, and world health. Altogether the Board of Trustees of the Volkswagen Foundation authorized 10 million euros for 13 new research projects within the Freigeist Fellowships initiative.