This talk provides an historical perspective to the contemporary sectarian tragedy unfolding in the modern Middle East.
First, it uncovers a complex, but now obscured, modern culture of coexistence in a region that is historically rich in religious diversity, but that today encompasses a series of war-torn countries including Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Second, it challenges two narratives that have traditionally dominated the story of diversity in the Middle East. The first idealizes coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims; the second stresses a continuous history of either latent or actual sectarian strife between allegedly antagonistic religious communities.
Rather than taking sectarianism or coexistence for granted, I am interested in historicizing both. At what point was “sectarianism” first identified as a political problem? When and why was public office parceled out along sectarian lines as an expression of equality? Why in some parts of the Middle East but not in others? And when was “coexistence” first celebrated as a national value?
Ussama Makdisi is Professor of History and the first holder of the Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University. In 2012-2013, Makdisi was an invited Resident Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin). In April 2009, the Carnegie Corporation named Makdisi a 2009 Carnegie Scholar as part of its effort to promote original scholarship regarding Muslim societies and communities, both in the United States and abroad.