Sectarianism and Colonial Difference

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Any Year
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

Is secularism Western? Is religious discourse the natural means of authentic, indigenous political mobilization and expression in the Middle East?

This course explores how religious difference in the Middle East became a salient social and political marker in the modern era. It will also consider the various methods and frameworks that scholars have used to grapple with this manifestation of social difference. By placing processes of sectarianization in conversation will racialization in other contexts, we will pay careful attention to the impact of European, Ottoman, and American colonialism and imperialism on communal relations in the Middle East.

It examines the formation of various regimes of political and legal representation, the contestations between the sacred and the secular over personal status laws, as well as the multiple manifestations of resistance to and transcendence of these, and other related projects. Using both primary and secondary sources, this course will consider majoritarian, minoritarian, secularist, postsecularist, nationalist, and consociational perspectives, to name a few

Objectives and learning outcomes

  • Discuss a variety of experiences of sectarianism and colonial social difference in the modern Middle East and the world.
  • Debate various scholarly understandings of sectarianism in the modern Middle East.
  • Apply relevant theories of social difference derived from other regions and experiences to the Middle East.
  • Evaluate the importance of the colonial experience in shaping social difference in the modern world.


  • 2-hours seminar per week

Method of assessment

  • Assignment 1: 35%
  • Assignment 2: 55%
  • Seminar participation: 10%

Suggested reading

  • Makdisi, Ussama. Age of Coexistence: The Ecumenical Frame and the Making of the Modern Arab World. University of California Press, 2019.
  • Mamdani, Mahmood. Define and Rule: Native as Political Identity. Harvard UP, 2012.
  • Wolfe, Patrick. Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race. Verso, 2016.
  • Mahmood, Saba. “Secularism, Hermeneutics, and Empire: The Politics of Islamic Reformation.” Public Culture 18, no. 2 (2006): 323–48.
  • Farha, Mark. “Searching for Sectarianism in the Arab Spring: Colonial Conspiracy or Indigenous Instinct?” The Muslim World 106, no. 1 (January 2016): 8–61.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.