WAFAW organized a research panel in the frame of the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies which was held in Ankara betwenn the 18th and 22nd of August 2014. The panel, entitled “Taking religion seriously”, tackled the question of how to deal with religious factors in analyzing socio-political processes. Robin Beaumont, Monica Marks, Julien Pélissier, Marie Vannetzel and Dilek Yankaya, as well as Thomas Pierret (Edinburgh University, discussant) participated.
The panel aimed at questioning the theoretical tools and the methods of research which are at hand to account for the status and role of religion and religious representations in social and political practices. It focused on various case studies. Robin Beaumont made a theoretical assessment of how the adjective “sectarian” was used to define such war contexts as post-2003 Iraq and post-2011 Syria. Monica Marks built on the case of Tunisia’s Ennahda party and argued that the increasingly dualistic approach towards studying Islamist movements (as either retrogressive, ideologically oriented movements part of an international ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ cabal-type conspiracy or as non-ideological, politically motivated organizations) fails to explain the nuanced complexities of Ennahda’s internal transition. As for the case of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, Marie Vannetzel showed how religion did matter although not in a deterministic way. It was used as a discursive, relational and behavioral repertoire, which were very much at work in strategies of electoral mobilization. Julien Pélissier and Dilek Yankaya both analyzed complex articulations of religion and economics in Iran and Turkey. Three different, and at times competitive, religious frameworks exerted various influences on main economic discourses in Iran, while in Turkey, pious businessmen engaged in individual mediations between their devotion and their entrepreneurial activities, which can be analyze through the concept of “Islamic selectivites”. Thomas Pierret then offered an in-depth and transversal discussion which opened questions and remarks from the audience.