Northwestern Events Calendar


Why is Sectarian Conflict on the Rise in the Middle East? A Talk by Danny Postel

When: Monday, June 4, 2018
6:00 PM - 7:30 PM CT

Where: Community Room (1st Floor), Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., Evanston, IL 60201

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Cost: Free of charge and open to the public

Contact: Danny Postel  

Group: Middle East and North African Studies

Category: Lectures & Meetings


As the Middle East descends further and further into a maelstrom of violence and state breakdown, the new conventional wisdom in Western media and policy circles attributes the turmoil to supposedly ancient sectarian hatreds, putatively primordial forces that make violent conflict inevitable and intractable. In this narrative, “sectarianism” possesses trans-historical causal power and serves as a catch-all explanation for the troubles plauguing the region.

In this presentation, Danny Postel, Assistant Director of the Middle East and North African Studies Program at Northwestern, will challenge this new conventional wisdom and suggest an alternative explanation for the recent spike in sectarian violence in the Middle East. He will show how various conflicts in the region have morphed from non-sectarian (and cross-sectarian) and nonviolent movements into sectarian battles and civil wars.

With reference to various cases — including Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and Yemen — Postel will map the dynamics of the "sectarianization" process, exploring how and why it has taken hold in recent years. He will examine the constellation of forces — from domestic to external factors, such as the Saudi–Iranian rivalry and US policy in the region — that drive this toxic process. Finally, he will explore the prospects for de-sectarianization in the Middle East.

Danny Postel is Assistant Director of the Middle East and North African Studies Program at Northwestern University. He is co-editor of Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East (2017), The Syria Dilemma (2013), and The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future (2010), and the author of Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran (2006).

Previously he was Senior Editor of openDemocracy and a staff writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education. His writing has appeared in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Critical Inquiry, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Dissent, The Guardian, Huffington Post, In These Times, Middle East Policy, The Nation, the New York Times, The Progressive, and the Washington Post.

This event is part of the MENA Monday Night series, a partnership between Northwestern's MENA Program and the Evanston Public Library aimed at expanding the public’s understanding of the MENA region and fostering a forum for questions and dialogue. MENA Monday Night events are free of charge and open to the public.

Copies of Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East will be available for sale.

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