American Univesity of Beirut

What's So Deep About Deeply Divided Societies? Rethinking Sectarianism in the Middle East

​​​​​​​​​​Professor Rima Majed, in her talk at the New York Office, pushed back against the idea that sectarianism is the main driver of the conflict in the Middle East and the primary narrative through which the region's conflicts might be understood. She says that while the sectarianism remains an important political reality, it does not touch on many of the underlying forces driving activity in the region. “Sectarianism is a readily available framework, a kind of fast food," Majed says. The bulk of her work as an academic has focused on deconstructing the sectarian narrative and its origins.

“Political scientists in the 1950s and 60s were preoccupied with the questions of democracy and stability. Can we apply liberal western democracy to those post-war societies?" They came to the conclusion, Majed says, that the ethno-sectarian divisions in newly-independent countries meant that they had to be treated differently; regular democracy assumes a degree of flexibility and openness to dialogue lacking in those countries. Hence their being classified as “deeply-divided."

“This is where theories of consociational democracy came about. It started as a discussion about divided systems and became a discussion about divided societies," she says. “Academics always want to have an impact on policy. Well, in this subfield, they're literally shaping how we're writing constitutions." Implicit in the system of consociational democracy is the idea “that at any level below the leader if people talk to each other it's going to be a civil war." 

Read a full text summary of the discussion here.

Video the Discussion


  • Rima Majed, Assistant Professor of Sociology at AUB
  • Sarah Parkinson, Aronson Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Johns Hopkins University

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