Roundtable Workshop – Call for Papers
The transformation of sectarian political identities in the Middle East
University of Cambridge, January 24th, 2020
The struggle to render legible episodes of violence and political crises in the Middle East over recent years has enlarged interest in the Sunni-Shi’a divide and the politics of sectarianism. Scholars have made important contributions to the critique of mainstream sectarianism by challenging essentialist characterizations of Muslims, drawing attention to the contingency of sectarian identities and deliberately scrutinizing specific ethno-religious identities rather than uniformly apply the sectarian lens. That the sectarian paradigm obscures complex local dynamics has gained traction, but there remains little understanding of the drivers and types of resistance to sectarianization that materialize at the grassroots level and within state politics. Specifically, how do diverse actors challenge sectarian politics and attending assumptions through everyday interactions, civil society and party politics? To what extent do sectarian narratives, rituals and symbols evolve, adapt and become re-appropriated during the process? Does post-sectarianism offer a way out of the ‘intractability’ of today’s political gridlock and violence?
It may be premature to sound the death knell on sectarian politics, but it is important to think seriously about how ideas about identity, nationhood, territorial space and solidarity are being recast in the Middle East, particularly in light of post-ISIS shifting landscapes and political discourses. Even as we begin to think about post-sectarian politics, it seems likely that rather than evaporate completely, sectarian identities take on new meanings, modes of expression and political salience. One alternative explanatory framework to (re)enter the political imagination has centred on nationalism, with terms such as Muslim or Sunni Islamic nationalism emerging to rationalize the political system in Turkey, the struggle for ‘post-sectarian’ nationalism in Iraq or Shi’a nationalism in Iran—such national iterations each pose a distinct relationship to sectarianism. There are also signs that Islamist parties that politicize sectarian orthodoxy are being challenged by secular or ‘other’ conservative parties tired of the corrosive misuse of Islam and piety. In what ways do such dynamics constitute resistance to sectarian mobilisation or, alternatively, serve as a different form of hybrid religio-political validation?
The objective of this workshop is to bring together scholars and specialists to offer comparative perspectives on the evolution of sectarian politics, including modes of resistance and re-signification in the Middle East and, through comparative analysis, in other parts of the Muslim world. We aim to produce a special journal issue of scholarly research developed from papers presented at the workshop as a well as a short podcast series.
• What hybrid and fluid forms does resistance to sectarian elite politics take? What kinds of political vernacular, politics of visuality and symbolism are adopted? And what are the ideological repercussions of a more non-sectarian role for religion in politics?
• How do variants of nationalism interact with processes of ‘sectarianization’?
• In what ways is resistance to sectarianism a response to mass violence? Do such responses re-enact or validate violence in different ways?
• Is sectarianism giving way to cross-sect alliances and compromise in some contexts and what does this imply for reimagined national or transnational identities?
• To what extent does or can post-sectarianism serve as a democratic movement?
• How can we approach the gender dimension of resistance to hegemonic sectarian narratives?
• In what ways do post-sectarian actors construct discourses that draw upon victimhood and alienation or alternatively, power and the divine?
• How can we better understand actors who earnestly adhere to a sectarian self-identity and sense of religious belonging?
• Are forms of resistance and alternative allegiances largely a product of state-based shifts or are there also cross-border forces at play?
Dr Glen Rangwala, University of Cambridge Dr. Bassel F. Salloukh, Lebanese American University, Beirut Dr Thomas Brandt Fibiger, Aarhus University Dr Toby Matthiessen, University of Oxford Dr Elizabeth Monier, University of Cambridge
Dr Burcu Özçelik, University of Cambridge
Abstracts should not exceed 300 words. Please also include a short biography, including institutional affiliation, main publications, and the name and email address of one academic referee.
Please send abstracts to email@example.com
Deadline for abstract submission: July 15, 2019
Response to selected abstracts: August 15, 2019
Deadline for complete papers: January 5, 2020
Should you have any questions, please contact Dr Burcu Özçelik at firstname.lastname@example.org