Conceptualizing Sectarianism: Perspectives on the Dynamics of Ethno-Religious Difference in Studying the Middle East and North Africa

Conceptualizing Sectarianization: Perspectives on the Dynamics of Ethno-Religious Difference in Studying the Middle East and North Africa

September 6-8, 2018

Demarcating a given community on the basis of its confessional identity or religious denomination has served as a key instrument in current international Middle Eastern politics. Furthermore, such demarcation of communities has informed the public debate about the Middle East and North Africa, the perception of Islam, its internal diversity as well as its dealing with non-Muslim minorities. Sectarianism, with the emphasis on (ethno-)religious identity has become the key concept to account for conflict, turmoil and war, and applied to so manifold a context as the political system of Lebanon, the war in Syria, and the growing international Sunna-Shiʿa divide. In contrast to the political discourse, recent academic contributions have identified the origins of sectarianism with the modern and colonial period and underlined its various trajectories. Thus, critical scholarship has shifted attention from a general political and essentialist characterization of the Middle East toward studying specific processes of conflicts, formations of ethno-religious identities, and societal fragmentation, and more recently adopted the process-oriented notion of “sectarianization.”
While building upon this path, our workshop invites scholars to revisit the analytical validity of sectarianism which has remained to be taken as either a self-evident category to discuss the region of the Middle East and North Africa or an explanatory framework. Rather, we would like to address specifically what “sectarianization” actually means and discuss possible definitions to the term. To be more specific, our aim is to broadly discuss the interpretive value and analytical validity of “sectarianization” and related concepts such as confessionalization, religious difference, and religious conflict.

This is a call for scholars from the fields of Middle East history and politics, social anthropology as well as Oriental philologies that are critically engaged with concepts of religious difference in contemporary, modern, and also early modern terms to answer the question of how to define sectarianization.

Researchers interested in applying are kindly invited to send a short abstract (200 words) before June 15, 2018 along with a short bio to Christian Wyler There is some budget available for travel expenses, so please indicate in your submission if you need financial support.

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