Special Issue "Religious Transformation in the Middle East - Spirituality, Religious Doubt, and Non Religion"
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 December 2020).
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
Manuscript Submission Information
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