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Religious Authority in the Middle East: Implications for U.S. Policy

Please note that this event will be held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C.

The notion of religious authority is central to understanding the interplay between religion and politics, particularly in the Middle East. Yet despite the rising prominence of religion in the region’s political landscape, our understanding of Islamic authority in this part of the world is severely limited. Islam’s largely decentralized and non-hierarchical structure of religious authority – with the exception of Shiite Islam – presents us with a number of interrelated questions: Who speaks for Islam in the Middle East, who wields religious or sacred authority, and to what extent do the region’s most politically active groups, such as Islamists and fundamentalists, possess or exert religious authority?

To answer these questions, the Baker Institute Center for the Middle East, with support from the Henry R. Luce Foundation, embarked on a research project to map religious authority and the channels of influence between various religious actors in the region and the broader populations.

At this conference, leading experts on the Middle East and North Africa discussed the study’s findings and their implications on both the domestic politics of Middle East countries and U.S. foreign policy in the region. This event was generously hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

To view the entire conference, please click below: 

Morning Keynote
Panel I
Panel II
Afternoon Keynote




8:00 am



Breakfast and Registration

9:00 am




Sarah Yerkes, Ph.D., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

9:10 am




A.Kadir Yildirim, Ph.D., Baker Institute Center for the Middle East

9:20 am    

Morning Keynote Address

Shaun Casey, Th.D., Georgetown University

10:00 am



Panel I — The State, Religious Authority and Legitimacy

Chair: Nathan Brown, Ph.D., The George Washington University 

Courtney Freer, Ph.D., London School of Economics

Annelle Sheline, Ph.D., Baker Institute Center for the Middle East

Scott Williamson, Stanford University

11:00 am




11:10 am



Panel II — Non-state Religious Actors and Authority

Chair: Sarah Yerkes, Ph.D., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Sharan Grewal, Ph.D., The Brookings Institution

Mirjam Künkler, Ph.D., University of Göttingen

Tarek Masoud, Ph.D., Harvard University

Yusuf Sarfati, Ph.D., Illinois State University

12:25 pm




1:00 pm



Afternoon Keynote Address

Peter Mandaville, Ph.D., George Mason University

2:00 pm



Closing Remarks

A.Kadir Yildirim, Ph.D., Baker Institute Center for the Middle East



Tue, March 19, 2019
8 a.m. - 2 p.m.
(GMT-0500) US/Central


Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20036-2103
United States of America