As sectarian violence continues to plague the Middle East, its origins are not widely understood. At this event, Ussama Makdisi, Ph.D., Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University, offered a historical perspective on the development of Middle East sectarianism – delving into a complex, and now obscured, modern culture of coexistence in a region rich in religious diversity, but that today encompasses several war-torn countries including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
In particular, Makdisi disputed two narratives that have traditionally dominated the story of diversity in the Middle East. The first stresses a continuous history of either latent or actual sectarian strife between allegedly antagonistic religious communities; the second idealizes coexistence and communal harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims. He asserted that the century-long struggle to define the contours of modern society in the Middle East has been multifaceted and contradictory, and deserves a more nuanced understanding.
Ussama Makdisi, Ph.D., is a professor of history and the Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University. In 2012–2013, Makdisi was a resident fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin. In April 2009, Makdisi was named a 2009 Carnegie Scholar as part of the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s effort to promote original scholarship regarding Muslim societies and communities, both in the United States and abroad. Makdisi is the author of “Faith Misplaced: the Broken Promise of U.S.-Arab Relations, 1820-2001”; “Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East”; and “The Culture of Sectarianism: Community, History, and Violence in Nineteenth-Century Ottoman Lebanon.” He is co-editor of “Memory and Violence in the Middle East and North Africa.” He has published widely on Ottoman and Arab history, as well as on U.S.-Arab relations and U.S. missionary work in the Middle East. Makdisi received his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and a Ph.D. from Princeton University.