Understanding ‘Sectarianism’: Sunni-Shia Relations in the Modern Arab World

Understanding ‘Sectarianism’: Sunni-Shia Relations in the Modern Arab World

Thu, 14 Jan 2021, 6 to 7:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0)

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A talk by Dr Fanar Haddad

How should we situate sectarian identity in the study of the modern Middle East? How are Sunni and Shi’a identities imagined, experienced and negotiated and how do they relate to and interact with other identities? How can we best treat the subject away from facile essentializations – be they orientalist or nationalist? In answering these and other questions, Fanar Haddad will discuss his new book Understanding ‘Sectarianism’: Sunni-Shia Relations in the Modern Arab World. The book questions many of the normative assumptions that have underpinned discussions of ‘sectarianism’: What is ‘sectarianism’? How does sectarian identity relate to secularism, religion and nationalism? How does sectarian identity affect conceptions of unity and division? Far from a uniquely Middle Eastern, Arab, or Islamic phenomenon, a better understanding of sectarian identity reveals that the many facets of sectarian relations that are misleadingly labeled ‘sectarianism’ are echoed in intergroup relations worldwide. Drawing on identity theory, theories of nationalism, ethnicity, critical race theory and comparative studies of intergroup relations, it will be shown that sectarian dynamics are neither an essential feature of the Middle East nor an alien imposition upon it. Ultimately, the book seeks to demystify the study of sectarian identity in order to better understand the shifting patterns of sectarian relations, from coexistence to conflict to irrelevance.

Fanar Haddad is Visiting Fellow at the Middle East Centre, London School of Economics and is currently Senior Advisor to the Prime Minister of Iraq. He previously lectured in modern Middle Eastern politics at the University of Exeter, at Queen Mary, University of London and at the National University of Singapore. Prior to obtaining his Ph.D., Haddad was a Research Analyst at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Middle East and North Africa Research Group. He is the author of Sectarianism in Iraq: Antagonistic Visions of Unity (2011) and Understanding ‘Sectarianism’: Sunni-Shi’a Relations in the Modern Arab World (2020).

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