Sectarianism and conflict in Syria

New academic article for Third World Quarterly, Volume 36, Issue 2, 2015

By Christopher Phillips


This article challenges the sectarian narrative of Syria’s current civil war, which relies on several false assumptions about the nature of political identity. It first questions how sectarian the uprising and civil war actually are, suggesting that the conflict is ‘semi-sectarian’, given the multiple other fault lines of contention, notably class, ideology and other non-sect, sub-state ties. It then draws on the theoretical debates between primordialists, ethno-symbolists and modernists to historicise political identity development in Syria. In doing so, it reasserts the modernist case, emphasising how political identities in Syria, both national and sectarian, have developed in a complex interrelated manner in the modern era and how the recent violent mobilisation of sectarian identity is the result of long- and short-term structural, economic, socio-cultural and political factors rather than unchanging ancient animosities. Of these, the most vital remain structural changes and elite reactions to them, with the prospect of state collapse in Syria’s future the most likely cause of a descent into further sectarian chaos.

For full article, see here.

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