Middle East Studies

“Sectarianism in Islam and Muslim Communities,” NAAIMS 44th Annual Conference

Saturday, September 19, 2015

8:30am – 6:00pm

Metcalf Research Center, Friedman Auditorium, 190 Thayer Street, Providence, RI 02912 United States

Registration fees are waived for Brown University students, faculty and administration officials. Please email the event organizer, Layla Sein, at conferences@naaims.org with the completed registration form.Non-participants (who are not part of Brown University), please register at the link listed below. Regular registration fee is $105.00 for non-students. Students do not pay a registration fee.https://www.eventbrite.com/e/naaims-44th-annual-conference-sectarianism-in-islam-and-muslim-communities-registration-17481662122

The conference which is scheduled for Saturday, September 19, 2015 and will be held at the Metcalf Research Building, Friedman Auditorium, addresses a topic of profound historical concerns.

Sectarian difference and conflict has been part of Islamic history from early times, beginning in a tangible, if not fully established, way during the First Civil War in the mid-1st/7th century. By the late 3rd/9th century, Islamic heresiographers began to document a wide variety of real or reified sectarian identities within the Islamic community. This sectarian history has always been tempered, however, by a well-established Islamic principle that allowed for a certain degree of theological and legal pluralism within the Muslim community, and the fairly widespread acceptance of the idea that the unity of the Muslim ummah was best achieved through the tolerance of a certain degree of diversity. Indeed, some might argue that “sects” and “sectarianism,” as they are understood in a Christian context, do not actually exist in the Islamic world, given that the unifying fundamentals of Islam – its scripture, its central beliefs and practices – are essentially the same across all interpretations of Islam, and communal boundaries have historically been more porous and informal between, for example, Sunnis and Shi`is than between certain Christian sects and denominations.

Nonetheless, conflict has waxed and waned between Sunnis and Shi`is, and among Shi`i groups, and there have been varying degrees of intolerance for smaller sectarian groups in the Islamic world. Today, sectarian intolerance and violence, particularly between Sunnis and Twelver Shi`is seems to be growing increasingly acute, not only in the Middle East, but also in South and Southeast Asia as well. This conference aims to explore the conceptual and religious significance of such sectarian divisions in Islam, as well as the practical and material manifestations of those divisions in Muslim communities both historically and in the contemporary world. The conference aims to examine the issue both in the context of Muslim majority countries, and among minority Muslim communities in North American and Europe. It seeks to investigate not only the religious and historical origins and bases for sectarian differences in the Islamic world, but also the social, political, and economic conditions that generate, exacerbate, or ameliorate sectarian tensions.

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