Special Issue "Religious Transformation in the Middle East - Spirituality, Religious Doubt, and Non Religion"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Theologies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 December 2020).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. C. van Nieuwkerk
Website
Guest Editor
Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies, Radboud University, 6525 XZ Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

At present there seems to be a renewed upsurge of protests against political authorities in the Arab world, reminding us of the wave of protests and revolutions of almost a decade ago.

Whereas the effects of the previous wave of revolutionary moments have been assessed for their (lack of) political impact, less is known about the religious transformation that since took place. Most attention has been dedicated to radical Islam, political Islam, Salafism, jihad, or its constructed counterpart, the political project of ‘moderate Islam’. A trend that has received less attention is the way that contesting political authorities during and after the Arab upsurges has also affected religious authorities due to the various ways religion and politics are intertwined in different Arab countries.

Popular lay preachers, such as `Amr Khalid, have become less attractive to the young generation of the revolutions and their aftermath. There appears to be a crisis in religious authority, not only because of its fragmentation but also as a result of the liberating effect of contesting all kinds of authorities, including political, religious, and patriarchal authorities. Also, the wide spread of social media as a source of information enables believers to actively question received ideas and search for alternative forms of religiosity and spirituality. Young people have started to question religion in its hegemonic and political forms, looking for various alternatives inside and outside religion.

Not only Sufism appears to be more attractive to young people, but also New Age spirituality and Buddhism can count on a rising popularity. This takes the form of spiritual religiosity and syncretic alternative communities, including musical subcultures.  An increasing number of women also take off hijab. Whereas removing hijab can be a sign of religious doubts and questioning, it can also represent a search for a more inward-oriented piety instead of the outward-oriented forms of the 1990s.

As the Arab Barometer has made visible, the number of people in the Middle East identifying as "not religious" has risen from 8% in 2013 to 13% in 2018. According to this source, the rise is the greatest for the age category under 30 years, among whom 18% identify as not religious. The ‘nones’ seem to have become more visible and audible in social media, with a growth of channels and Facebook groups openly discussing agnosticism and atheism. This upsurge of doubts and questioning has not gone unnoticed among religious authorities and state actors, unleashing intense debate on how to counter this trend of non-religiosity and spiritual crises.

This Special Issue looks to compose a cross section of current work in social science, religious studies, and related fields on Islam/religion and non-religion in the Arab World. It aims at collecting case studies that offer carefully contextualized explorations, grounded in theoretically informed analyses.

Possible themes and topics of interest include the following:

  • New spiritual trends among younger generations in the Arab World, including Sufism, New Age, Asian religions;
  • New religious expressions and spiritual subcultures via social media and pop culture;
  • Expressions of religious doubts and nonbelieving;
  • Discourses by religious authorities and state actors on religious doubts, agnosticism. and non-believing.

Submissions on other, related, themes and topics are also welcome.

A panel on the same topic will be organized at the MESA annual meeting (10-13 October, Washington). For more information about MESA, registration, and deadlines (abstract by February 15 and working paper  September 15) can be found at their website  https://mesana.org/annual-meeting/current-meeting.

Please send any questions, including ideas for possible papers, and willingness to join MESA to [email protected]

Prof. Dr. C. van Nieuwkerk
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Published Papers (3 papers)

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Research

Open AccessArticle
After Hajj: Muslim Pilgrims Refashioning Themselves
Religions 2021, 12(1), 36; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12010036 - 07 Jan 2021
Abstract
The Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) is one of the five pillars of Islam and a duty which Muslims must perform—once in a lifetime—if they are physically and financially able to do so. In Morocco, from where thousands of pilgrims travel to Mecca [...] Read more.
The Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj) is one of the five pillars of Islam and a duty which Muslims must perform—once in a lifetime—if they are physically and financially able to do so. In Morocco, from where thousands of pilgrims travel to Mecca every year, the Hajj often represents the culmination of years of preparation and planning, both spiritual and logistical. Pilgrims often describe their journey to Mecca as a transformative experience. Upon successfully completing the pilgrimage and returning home, pilgrims must negotiate their new status—and the expectations that come with it—within the mundane and complex reality of everyday life. There are many ambivalences and tensions to be dealt with, including managing the community expectations of piety and moral behavior. On a personal level, pilgrims struggle between staying on the right path, faithful to their pilgrimage experience, and straying from that path as a result of human imperfection and the inability to sustain the ideals inspired by pilgrimage. By ethnographically studying the everyday lives of Moroccans after their return from Mecca, this article seeks to answer the questions: how do pilgrims encounter a variety of competing expectations and demands following their pilgrimage and how are their efforts received by members of their community? How do they shape their social and religious behavior as returned pilgrims? How do they deal with the tensions between the ideals of Hajj and the realities of daily life? In short, this article scrutinizes the religious, social and personal ramifications for pilgrims after the completion of Hajj and return to their community. My research illustrates that pilgrimage contributes to a process of self-formation among pilgrims, with religious and non-religious dimensions, which continues long after Hajj is over and which operates within, and interacts with, specific social contexts. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Moral Ambivalence, Religious Doubt and Non-Belief among Ex-Hijabi Women in Turkey
Religions 2021, 12(1), 33; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12010033 - 06 Jan 2021
Abstract
This article investigates religious transformations in contemporary Turkey through the case of women’s unveiling. Drawing on 10 in-depth interviews with university-educated urban women who have recently stopped wearing the veil, the article examines their experiences and their motivations for unveiling. It asks to [...] Read more.
This article investigates religious transformations in contemporary Turkey through the case of women’s unveiling. Drawing on 10 in-depth interviews with university-educated urban women who have recently stopped wearing the veil, the article examines their experiences and their motivations for unveiling. It asks to what extent and in what ways Muslim women’s decisions to unveil are a reaction against the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) shift towards electoral authoritarianism and Islamic conservatism. Some practicing Muslims, particularly youth, have withdrawn their support from the government because of its political authoritarianism and its abandonment of Islamic ideals relating to justice. Since the 2013 Gezi Park protests, the AKP has come under critical scrutiny, both economically (e.g., increasing youth unemployment rates, widening income inequality, the shrinking middle class, clientelism) and sociopolitically (e.g., gendered social welfare policies, pro-natalist campaigns, the discourse on creating a pious generation). However, although the current political atmosphere plays a significant role in women’s unveiling, the article also discusses women’s personal and theological motives. The article elaborates on how ex-hijabi women contest both Islamist politics and Islamic orthodoxy regarding female religiosity and how these women reinterpret dominant gender norms. Full article
Open AccessArticle
‘Uncovering the Self’: Religious Doubts, Spirituality and Unveiling in Egypt
Religions 2021, 12(1), 20; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12010020 - 28 Dec 2020
Abstract
Since the 1980s, discourse on religious piety has taken many different forms, from mosque lessons by lay preachers—such as `Amr Khalid—to religious TV programmes and leisure activities. Within this widespread religious culture and cultivation of forms of visible piety, wearing the veil became [...] Read more.
Since the 1980s, discourse on religious piety has taken many different forms, from mosque lessons by lay preachers—such as `Amr Khalid—to religious TV programmes and leisure activities. Within this widespread religious culture and cultivation of forms of visible piety, wearing the veil became an almost uncontested norm for women. As Saba Mahmood demonstrated, the veil became a crucial way to express and cultivate a ‘pious self’. Yet especially since the 2011 revolution and its aftermath, many young Egyptians started to question political, religious and patriarchal authorities. Amongst others, this took on open or hidden forms of non-believing, as well as a search for new forms of spirituality. Based on fieldwork and interviews, this contribution looks into the motives and experiences of women who decided to cast off the veil. In view of the hegemonic piety discourse, this is a huge issue, which is met by fierce reactions and accusations of immorality and non-belief. Whereas for some women this decision is an expression of religious doubt or a turn to a non-religious worldview, for others it is a way to contest the current piety discourse in a search for a more personal and spiritual connection with God. While the relationship with religion among my interlocutors might differ, they share a common attempt to uncover their ‘authentic selves’. By unveiling, they express their wish to define their own space and ideas regarding religion, gender and their bodies. Full article
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