Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University:

If you ask four academics a question, you are lucky to escape with fewer than a dozen answers.  The range of responses here is not unusual.  But while all of us set off in some very different directions, I see some very strong commonalities in our answers.

First, when asked about “political Islam” we all shift the question away from questions that prevailed in the recent past, ones that often focused on formal institutions and procedures—parties, law, and elections. Politics lies elsewhere.

Second, not only is there a turn away from formal parties, leaders, platforms, tactics and strategies but also a turn toward situating our understanding in much broader social, political, and intellectual contexts.

And third, there is a partial shift—more marked for some of us than others—in emphasis from actors to long term processes and trends, as if we should move some of our attention from change wrought by conscious tactical and strategic actions but the evolution of societies buffeted by forces that are not the tools of any particular leader or movement.