Rethinking Nationalism, Sectarianism and Ethno-Religious Mobilisation in the Middle East

On 26-28th January 2018, TORCH’s Humanities & Identities programme supported a major international conference organised by Dr Alex HenleyDr Ceren Lord, and Dr Hiroko Miyokawa.  Entitled "Rethinking Nationalism, Sectarianism and Ethno-Religious Mobilisation in the Middle East", the conference brought numerous disciplinary perspectives to bear on contemporary questions of Middle Eastern identity politics, generating a dialogue between scholars of nationalism and sectarianism.  The event was hosted by two Oxford colleges with historic strengths in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies – Pembroke College and St Antony’s College.

Over three days, we heard presentations by 37 speakers from 11 different countries in panels chaired by 10 leading experts on Islam and the Middle East from around Oxford.  Speakers represented disciplines including Theology; Religious Studies; Oriental Studies; Anthropology; History; Sociology; Political Science; International Relations; and Law.  These speakers had been selected from a pool of over 300 applicants at the cutting edge of global research on ethno-religious identity politics in the Middle East, coming from as far as Japan and the United States.  Results of the conference will be published in a forthcoming edited volume and journal special issue.

A public keynote lecture entitled "Formations of the Sectarian" was given by Professor Max Weiss of Princeton University, acclaimed author of "In the Shadow of Sectarianism" (Harvard University Press, 2010).  Weiss addressed the state of this rapidly-growing field, speaking to its developments since his own foundational intervention and proposing several important new directions for future research, including the need to explore sectarianism through its varied local formations and its affective dimensions.

Each panel brought together expertise on several Middle Eastern countries to address topics including:
• Variations of Sectarianism and Sectarian Mobilisations
• Religious Actors in Negotiating the Nation and Sectarian Politics
• Placing Religion in Protest and Social Movements
• Everyday Sectarianism in the Re-Imagination of Boundaries
• Reconciling State and Sub-State Identities in Contested National Spaces
• Challenges to the Nation-State in the Post-2011 Era
• State and Non-State Actors in the Governance of Diversity

The full programme can be viewed here:

The event was made possible by a generous donation from Pembroke College alumnus Brian Wilson to support the college's world-leading research cluster in Islamic Studies.  Further funding was provided by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and the Middle East Centre at St Antony's College.  Invaluable administrative assistance was given by Stephen Minay and an expert team of student helpers.

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Alex Henley

Humanities & Identities

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