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Striking from the Margins


Religion, State and Disintegration in the Middle East

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Striking from the Margins


Religion, State and Disintegration in the Middle East

 

The project Striking from the Margins: Religion, State, and Disintegration in the Middle East seeks a nuanced and dynamic understanding of the transformations of religion in relation to those of state and social structures, most specifically in Syria and Iraq, over the past three decades. It aims to work towards conceptual and analytical vocabularies which would be more adequate to the situation than common recourse to culturalist and post-colonialist explanations, by lending keen attention to social dynamics, political economy, conjunctural developments and the global setting of comparable developments elsewhere.

 

يسعى المشروع البحثي "توثُّب الأطراف: الدين والدولة والتفكك في المشرق العربي" الى بلورة فهم دقيق وديناميكي لتحولات الدين في علاقته بالتحولات في بنى الدولة والاجتماع، وبوجهٍ خاصٍّ في سورية والعراق خلال العقود الثلاثة الأخيرة. يهدف المشروع الى تطوير الادوات المفاهيمية والتحليلية الملائمة للحالة المدروسة وبشكل يتجنب ماهو شائع من تفسيرات ثقافوية أو مابعد-كولونيالية، موجهاً أهتماماً خاصّاً للديناميات الاجتماعية، والاقتصاد السياسي، والتطورات المركبة والمعقدة ومتعددة الأبعاد، إضافة الى السياق العالمي الذي يشهد تطورات نظيرة وقابلة للمقارنة.

 
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Events


Events


 

Bi-weekly research seminar

Striking from the Margins:
Religion, State and Disintegration in the Middle East

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Striking from the Margins holds a bi-weekly research seminar in its Budapest seat. This is intended for the presentation of research results and the suggestion of analytical and comparative perspectives. The seminar will be addressed by both CEU and external experts.

 

 
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The Research Team


The Research Team


 

The core research team consists of two post-doctoral fellows Dr Harith Hasan Al-Qarawee and Dr Harout Akdedian. The project is supervised by Prof Aziz Al-Azmeh (Professor of History at CEU) and Prof Nadia Al-Bagdadi (Director of the Institute of Advanced Study at CEU). The team will be completed by one or more PhD students joining during SFM’s lifetime.

 
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Opinions


Opinions


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On Sykes-Picot and the crisis of socio-political imagining

 

 

Opinion Piece by Dr Harout AKDEDIAN

 

The articles by Traboulsi and Patel are spot-on in demystifying repeatedly mentioned and rarely questioned tropes regarding the Sykes-Picot agreement. For analytical purposes, however, I think Traboulsi’s reference to Anderson’s Imagined Communities points towards a wider intellectual crisis of socio-political imagining well beyond Sykes-Picot or borders in the Middle East. 


Traboulsi cautiously argues that Arab nationalists’ ‘natural Syria’ is as artificial as the artificiality of the Sykes-Picot related arrangements. I completely agree with this assessment. But I also acknowledge that regardless of the historical evolution of political borders in the Middle East, political borders in general are an intrinsic feature of the modern state - both effectively and normatively.

Normatively, the state reinforces and projects notions of territoriality by educating the most active and impressionable segments of society. This takes place in no small scale through the institutions of violence and coercion that both 1) impose these ideas on broader society and 2) subject the majority of the male population at age 18 to indoctrination through conscription. When state resources are directed towards this end and generations go through these systems, artificial borders become more than cartographic lines that mark the beginning of one state’s sovereignty and the end of another’s. These imagined borders become a part of collective socio-political psychology. With the full weight of the state behind territoriality, the notion seems to gain sufficient social weight for some to be willing to sacrifice life for these imagined lines – either to preserve or to change them.

Traboulsi seems in agreement here as he points out that borders did not shape the socio-political landscape of the Middle East on their own. Rather, he argues that endogenous and exogenous actors operating and negotiating with structures and processes at play did. But if we want to lay our focus on borders as such (as both articles do), the question to be asked is not only socio-historical as in how they came about, but also psychological as in how they influence our political imagining of the Middle East. This point is further stressed by the footage of ISIS fighters claiming the end of Sykes-Picot by crossing the Syrian-Iraqi border on bulldozers. As if the problem with borders (Sykes-picot or otherwise) is simply a matter of re-shifting cartographic lines on political maps.

 

If anything, ISIS propaganda regarding the end of Sykes-Picot reveals a much broader issue in the Middle East and beyond – that of the intellectual crisis of imagining social organization and politics only through the prism of the modern state system:

 

The state, most obviously in the MENA region, seems to have disappointed significant portions of the populace. The prescriptive answer to the general disappointment either consists of some variation of the Weberian state, or a theocracy that is based on the same modern Weberian state-structures with minor alterations in form not content. This is similar to the intellectual crisis of the left today where the debate around political economy is limited to ‘more capitalism’ or ‘less capitalism’ but never alternatives. Similarly, discussions about political systems in the Middle East either call for more states (partition), or some variation of the modern state (more or less participatory, more or less secular). Why not look beyond the state system for alternatives – especially scholars and intellectuals? Maybe systems of self-governance in areas such as Rojava or Manbij between 2012 and 2014 put forth different answers.