What is the role that religion plays in the political life of Middle Eastern Muslim-majority societies today, and how does our understanding of that compare with conventional wisdom, including what we are often exposed to in the news media?
Today’s news headlines consistently point to the role that religion plays in the political life of Middle Eastern societies. But do these headlines tell the whole story? This course will challenge simplistic explanations of the dominant role of Islam in Middle Eastern politics by putting it in historical perspective. You will explore the genealogy of some of the most important debates about the role of religion in politics: the extent of Middle Eastern states' involvement in religion, the place of religious minorities, whether religious norms should infringe on individual freedoms, and the various political theologies at play in Islamist opposition movements, in liberal conceptions of religion, and in state religious interpretations. At the crux of these vigorous debates is the issue of the meaning of a "Muslim state," an issue that has shaped vibrant discussions and deep political disagreements that you will discover through textual and historical analysis of primary sources. Understanding who were the men and women who participated in these debates over the modern history of the Middle East, what they argued for and against, and the context in which they made their claims will provide you with the historical and textual perspective to make sense of the news headlines about religion and politics in the Middle East.