Understanding 'Sectarianism'

Sunni-Shi'a Relationsin the Modern Arab World

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Fanar Haddad
  • Oxford, UK: 
    Oxford University Press
    , March
     272 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


"Sectarianism" is one of the most over-discussed yet under-analyzed concepts in debates about the Middle East. Despite the deluge of commentary, there is no agreement on what "sectarianism" is. Is it a social issue, one of dogmatic incompatibility, a historic one or one purely related to modern power politics? Is it something innately felt or politically imposed? Is it a product of modernity or its antithesis? Is it a function of the nation-state or its negation?

This book seeks to move the study of modern sectarian dynamics beyond these analytically paralyzing dichotomies by shifting the focus away from the meaningless '-ism' towards the root: sectarian identity. How are Sunni and Shi'a identities imagined, experienced and negotiated and how do they relate to and interact with other identities?

Looking at the modern history of the Arab world, Haddad seeks to understand sectarian identity not as a monochrome frame of identification but as a multi-layered concept that operates on several dimensions: religious, subnational, national and transnational. 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 labelled "sectarianism" are echoed in intergroup relations worldwide.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Fanar Haddad is senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore. He is the author of Sectarianism in Iraq, also available from Oxford University Press.



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