Before the immense changes of the 2011 "Arab Spring", it was Sunni-Shia sectarian rivalry that preoccupied most political analyzes of the Middle East. The growing tensions and occasional clashes between believers in the two main strands of Islam have been major concerns. Upheavals within the Shia sphere of influence had altered the relationship: the Iranian revolution of 1979 changed the politics of Iranian Shiism, and impacted on Shia communities regionally, while the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq initiated a new phase of tension in Sunni-Shia relations. The specter of a sectarian war in Iraq, a diplomatic and military offensive against the Lebanese Hezbollah and a potentially nuclear-armed Iran (along with Tehran's support for Hamas) prompted King Abdallah II of Jordan to warn of an emerging 'Shia crescent'. However, away from such grand geopolitical gestures, Sunni-Shia relations are being rearticulated through an array of local, regional and global connections.
This book presents wide-ranging and up-to-date research that sheds light on the political, sociological and ideological processes that are affecting the dynamics within, as well as the relationships between, the Shia and Sunni worlds. Among the themes discussed are the ideological and doctrinal evolutions that are taking place, the contextualization of the main protagonists' political practices, transnational networks, and the role of intellectuals, religious scholars and the media in shaping and informing this dynamic relationship.
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Brigitte Maréchal is Professor in the Socio-Anthropology of Religion, Catholic University of Leuven. She is also director of Cismoc (Centre Interdisciplinaire d Etudes de l Islam dans le Monde Contemporain). Sami Zemni is Professor of Political and Social Sciences at the Centre for Third World Studies, Ghent University (Belgium) where he leads the Middle East and North Africa Research Group.
"At a time when the conflict in Iraq, and the more recent uprisings in Syria, Bahrain and in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province, have prompted a resurgence of essentialist generalizations on the Sunni-Shia divide, this collection of brilliant contributions by leading scholars from various disciplines is a welcome reminder of the complexity of the sectarian question in Islam which does not simply derive from textual and interpretative divergences, but is also socially constructed and politically instrumentalized." --Stéphane Lacroix, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po, Paris, and author of Awakening Islam: The Politics of Religious Dissent in Contemporary Saudi Arabia
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