Heretics, Converts and Infidels: Political, Cultural and Social Aspects of Religion
in ‘Shared Worlds’
Long before nationalism, religion served as the major social bond keeping city-states, kingdoms and empires together.  The Middle East and southeastern Europe are no different in this regard but at the same time their particular historical experience makes them exceptionally interesting places to think about the relationship between religion, politics, culture and society.  At times they have been part of polities that have pursued homogenizing agendas, in which kings, emperors, dictators, parliaments and governments have worked to identify the ‘true dogma’ with allegiance to state, heresy with cessation, conversion with national treason, religious difference with national difference. The Byzantine and the modern period of nation-states stand out in this regard. At other times, such as the Ottoman period, the peoples of the two regions have been part of imperial systems where religious difference was an accepted and enduring aspect of political, social and cultural life.  In all periods the exceptional religious diversity of the Middle East and southeastern Europe has produced social practices that cannot be reduced to religious dogma. Conversion, religious syncretism and crypto-religious practices were all used as methods of adaptation, survival and success for Muslims, Christians and Jews. Intense European involvement in the modern period added another ingredient to the mix, as confession was elevated into an important interface for contact between East and West (as they came to be defined). Confessions were linked to the Powers, for protection and profit. And when nation-states were established politics and diplomacy were haunted by confessional politics. The making, the presence and the future of this eternal and dramatic interaction between religion, culture, politics and diplomacy is the topic of our 2017 summer seminar.
Daily lectures and discussions will focus on:

  • New approaches to religious diversity in the Ottoman Empire.
  • Religion, violence and nationalism in the Balkans (late 18th-early 20th centuries).
  • Religious identity among Balkan Roma: Old and new communities of faith.
  • The Muslim factor in the British Colonial and Middle East Policy.
  • Islam and nationalism in the post-communist Balkan states.
  • Facilitating the Holocaust in the Balkans and Eastern Europe
  • Haunted Presents: On European and Middle Eastern Religious Conflicts
  • Politicizing religion in democratizing countries.
  • Gender and violence in the Middle East and North Africa: the role of language and religion.
  • The problem with universal suffrage: The murderous mix of majority rule and religious diversity

A workshop will present the uses of the
Visual History Archive, and the testimonies of Holocaust survivors from Greece
Two afternoon seminars (four sessions each) will discuss

  • Syncretism and sectarianism. Religious coexistence and conflict in Ottoman and Greek Thessaloniki
  • The politics of religion and diversity

along with a variety of fieldwork activities and visits to museums and monuments.