Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies

Dr Thomas Pierret

Dr Pierret earned his PhD in Political and Social Sciences at Sciences Po Paris and the Catholic University of Louvain (2009), funded by the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (Belgium).

Dr Thomas Pierret

Lecturer in Contemporary Islam

  • Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies
  • University of Edinburgh

Room 2/7
19 George Square

Post Code

He received his License in Modern History from the University of Liège (2001), his MA in International Politics from the Free University of Brussels (2002), and his MA in Comparative Politics (Muslim world) from Sciences Po Paris (2003).

He attended a year-long intensive advanced Arabic language course at the French Institute of Damascus (2003-4).

In 2010, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University, Department of Near Eastern Studies.

In 2011, he was a visiting fellow at the Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin.

Research Interests

In his PhD research on the Syrian Sunni ulama, Dr Pierret explored various aspects of the politics and sociology of modern Islam, including religious authorities, Islamic activism, state policies in the realm of religion, education, and the media.

He has also written articles on the issue of sectarianism (Sunni-Shiite relations), the religious legitimisation of authoritarian regimes, and the concept of post-Islamism.

He is currently working on the Syrian insurgency and focuses in particular on the leadership of insurgent movements as well as on the role of the various brands of Salafism in the insurgency.

Knowledge Exchange and Public Activities

Over the last two years, Dr Thomas Pierret's comments on the Syrian crisis have been featured on more than three hundred occasions in dozens of media outlets from thirty-four different countries. These outlets include the BBC, The Financial Times, The Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Agence France Presse, France 24, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera English, and the Voice of Russia.

Dr Thomas Pierret has been consulted about the Syrian crisis by the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States, France, and Belgium. In the spring of 2012, he was also asked to join the team of the United Nations and Arab League's Joint Special Envoy on the Syrian crisis Kofi Annan, but the latter's mission was interrupted prematurely. Dr Pierret has also contributed to inform policy-makers on Syria by writing papers for US and UN-related think-tanks like the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), the International Peace Institute(IPI), and the International Institute for Strategic Studies(IISS). Dr Pierret's influence in the policy debate over Syria was reflected by his participation in the volume The Syria Dilemma (MIT Press, 2013) along with such prominent academics and practitioners as Richard Falk, Michael Ignatieff, Marc Lynch, Vali Nasr, Kenneth Roth, and Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Dr Thomas Pierret's outreach activities beyond media and government circles have included lectures and talks for Scottish Police officers (December 2012), religious leaders of various obediences (Edinburgh Interfaith Week, November 2013), political activists from the Arab world (workshop of the Cordoba Foundation, Tunis, December 2012), and students associations.

Summary of Research Interests

  • Middle Eastern politics, with a particular focus on Syria
  • The politics and sociology of modern Islam
  • Islamic religious authorities (in particular the ulama)
  • Islamic activism
  • Management of religion by Middle Eastern states
  • Sectarianism (Sunni-Shiite and Sufi-Salafi relations)
  • Islamic education
  • Islam and modern economy
  • Islam in the media

Current Research Activity

  • Sociology of Syria's insurgent leadership


Undergraduate teaching

  • Jihad by the Sword, Jihad by the Tongue: Modern Islamic Activism
  • Islam in Modern Societies

Postgraduate teaching

  • Islamic Movements in the 20th and 21st Centuries
  • Ideology and Political Practice in the Modern Middle East
  • Advanced Issues in the Study of the Modern Middle East
  • Islam and Social Change in the 20th Century


A full listing of Thomas' publications can be found on the Edinburgh Research Explorer: