The rise of religious sectarianism in the Middle East is often met with calls for the institutionalization of religious liberty as a means of ensuring that non-Muslim minorities can practice their religion freely without state intervention and social coercion. Conventional wisdom has it that religious liberty is a universally valid secular-liberal principle whose proper implementation continues to be thwarted by intransigent forces in society (such as illiberal governments, religious fundamentalists, and traditional norms).This talk challenges such an account by showing that religious liberty is not simply a neutral principle for accommodating religious difference but, as a key mechanism of modern statecraft, also defines and constitutes differences at the heart of the identity of religious minorities and majorities alike.Taking the Coptic Orthodox Christian community of Egypt as a test case, this talk asks/how/ the national and international regulation and protection of religious freedom in the Middle East has made specific imaginaries of freedom and unfreedom possible for the religious minority and majority populations of Egypt.
Saba Mahmood Bio:
Saba Mahmood teaches in the department of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. She is the author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (2005), and the co-author of Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech (2009).Mahmood is currently working on a book on religious liberty and minorities in the Middle East.She is the recipient of a number of awards including the Carnegie Corporation’s Islamic scholars award (2007-08), and the Frederick Burkhardt fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (2009-10). Currently she is a co-PI on a three-year grant from the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs for a comparative study of the right to religious liberty in global perspective.