Date of Award

Fall 12-2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Business Administration

First Advisor

Maureen A. Scully

Second Advisor

Jared M. Poole

Third Advisor

Banu Ozkazanc-Pan, Ghazal Mir Zulfiqar


An enduring tension in the study of institutions is between the micro level of agents’ activities that shape institutions and the macro level of institutions as enduring entities that tend to resist change. Institutions in crisis offer opportunities to look at urgent and adaptive changes. I study an Islamic organization that is representative of a religious institution, which has deep traditions and meaningfulness to its members. In a time of crisis, in the urban area in the United States where it is located, the organization is pressed by external parties, such as government, media, and leaders from other religions, to demonstrate its legitimacy and its appropriate responsiveness. There is also internal interest in making some changes. My research explores the question: What happens as individuals undertake ‘daily actions’ to both change and preserve features of an organization that is dealing with ongoing external pressures? Through a series of three papers, I explore this question, locating the importance of studying faith-based organizations, tracking how external jolts prompt changes but within limits, and demonstrating how the theory of ‘strategy as practice’ offers a useful toolkit for observing activities: improvisations, leadership strategic moves, unexpected discontinuous change, and sequences of action and reaction from members. I draw upon three kinds of data to understand these everyday practices: participant observation and reflective journals; interviews (expert interviews, member interviews, and opportunistic interviews); and community documents (such as flipcharts generated in brainstorming sessions). I track how the organization makes some outward-facing changes, to signal membership in what the leadership construes to be the broad institutions of American democracy and American religious participation. At the same time, I track internal changes and the members’ mix of enthusiasm and pushback regarding change, with the resulting statements about “here’s what’s not changing.” Cycles of experimenting with new practices end up preserving the meaningful core of the organization. Understanding this simultaneity of openness to change and buffers against change gives a finer portrait of how tradition-based institutions do change—how and to what extent—in moments of crisis.


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