The Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life (IRCPL) at Columbia University in collaboration with the Columbia Global Centers | Amman and co-sponsored by our partners in Europe, are organizing a conference entitled "Untangling Popular Power: Rhetoric, Faith, and Social Order in the Middle East," on March 2-3, 2019. The conference will take place at the Columbia Global Center in Amman, Jordan.
The conference will consider various forms of popular power in the Middle East and North Africa by examining how populism is defined, the role of modern populist movements like anti-colonial struggles or popular anti-regime uprisings, how the use of religious identity has shaped these movements, and the relationship between populist ambitions and various media platforms, from print to broadcast to digital.
As “populism” itself becomes a significant force, both rhetorically and politically, across the world and in the region, the need for interdisciplinary scholarship across the MENA region is vital. This forum aims to explore the extent to which recently emerging populisms in the contemporary Middle East are illustrative of a new historical trend, and/or the extent to which they are a continuation of the diverse strategies for the mobilization of peoples that were deployed during international anti-colonial projects and civil rights movements. It will examine the intersection of populist and religious discourses and the relationship of secular and religious activists to political and social power, as well as the implications of the different strains of emerging populism on globalization, liberal institutions, human rights, and the media.
Although “populism” is a contested term, here we use it to characterize political trends in which leaders mobilize social groups for political action through rhetoric(s) that weave together emotionally charged themes into a message of economic uplift, nationalism, the wresting of power from entrenched elites, and the protection of an authentic way of life.
The two-day conference will be held at the Columbia Global Center in Amman and aims to provide a forum for scholars, local experts, advanced doctoral students, activists and practitioners to investigate these themes and track how populism that uses religious discourse is being variously deployed across the MENA region. Following the conference, select participants will be invited to contribute a revised and extended version of their papers to an edited book volume and other online writing fora.
The conference invites contributions from academics, NGO organizations, religious leaders, and civil society members who work in and on the MENA region. Contributors are invited to submit abstracts for the following thematic panels with a suggested range of topics for each panel.
Language and Meaning: Conceptualizing Popular Politics in the Middle East
Meanings and connotations of the term “populism” in the various contexts and languages of the Middle East and North Africa
Ways in which populist movements envision community and authenticity and target particular social groups (e.g. religious communities, ethnic groups, and economic classes)
Discourses of nationalism, civil rights, equality, religion, secularism, and methods used to promote cleavages of identity in the pursuit of populist objectives
The Past in the Present: Historical Perspectives on Populism
Contemporary populist movements in the region as a new phenomenon
Populist movements of the past
Differences between MENA and European/American populist ideologies
Mobilizing the Faithful: The Role of Religion and Religious Identity in Popular Politics
Role of religious leaders and religious communities
Use of religion and religious identity by populist leaders and movements to pursue national, economic, and social objectives
Politicization of religious tropes through populist lenses activating previously dormant populations of political actors
Contribution of traditional media and social media to contentious politics and social movements, in the past and today
Populist rhetoric employed across media platforms – newspapers, television, the web, and others
Religious dimensions in media environments
Tension between populist figures and media and the question of “illegitimate” or “fake” media
Bread, Dignity, and Social Justice: The Economics of Populism
Divergent framings of welfare and who is mobilized around such claims
Role of global and local financial crises in rise of populist movements
Negotiation of Islamist economic ideas and global political economy
Economic precariousness and inaccessibility of resources correlated with changing views of what constitutes legitimate use of authority in MENA
Guide for Authors
Abstracts should be 250 words maximum in length. They should be titled and have all requisite bibliographic citations.
Along with the abstract, please include a detailed, recent Curriculum Vitae/resume (no longer than 3 pages).
Abstracts will be evaluated according to the following categories: originality of theme, clear data and methodology, clarity and relevance of the proposal to the conference theme.
To submit your abstract, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line of the email titled “Populism Middle East Abstract” by Monday, October 22, 2018.
Deadline for abstract: Monday, October 22, 2018
Deadline for final paper submission: Tuesday, January 15, 2019
For any enquiries regarding the conference program, please contact:
University of Oslo – IKOS
University of Groningen – Centre for Religion, Conflict, and Globalization
Sciences Po, Centre for International Studies (CERI)
Alliance Program – Columbia University