Sectarianism Without Sects

Azmi Bishara

A rigorous exploration of the roots of sectarianism in the Middle East, analysing how the social category of sect has been reinvented as a basis for political identity.

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Sectarianism Without Sects Hardback
February 2021£40.00
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This volume analyses the transformation of social sectarianism into political sectarianism across the Arab world. Using a framework of social theories and socio-historical analysis, the book distinguishes between ta’ifa, or ‘sect’, and modern ta’ifiyya, ‘sectarianism’, arguing that sectarianism itself produces ‘imaginary sects’. It charts and explains the evolution of these phenomena and their development in Arab and Islamic history, as distinct from other concepts used to study religious groups within Western contexts.

Bishara documents the role played by internal and external factors and rivalries among political elites in the formulation of sectarian identity, citing both historical and contemporary models. He contends that sectarianism does not derive from sect, but rather that sectarianism resurrects the sect in the collective consciousness and reproduces it as an imagined community under modern political and historical conditions.

Sectarianism Without Sects is a vital resource for engaging with the sectarian crisis in the Arab world. It provides a detailed historical background to the emergence of sect in the region, as well as a complex theoretical exploration of how social identities have assumed political significance in the struggle for power over the state.


Azmi Bishara is General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, and the author of numerous works on political thought, social theory and philosophy. His most influential in Arabic include Civil Society: A Critical Contribution; The Arab Question; and Religion and Secularism in a Historical Context.