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Living Sectarianism: Lived Religion and Christian-Muslim Relations in Urban Egypt


Hyun Jeong Ha (DKU)

Egypt today is more divided than ever along ethnic and religious lines. Social discrimination against Coptic Christians, for example, has increased since the regime transition after the 2011 Arab uprisings. What do daily inter-sectarian relations look like in Christians' everyday lives? How do social class, gender, and geography shape discrimination based on religion differently? And what are the functions of religion beyond the church walls in the face of social discrimination? Drawing from ethnographic data collected in Cairo, Egypt between 2014 and 2018, this research suggests a novel approach of "living sectarianism" to the study of sectarianism in the Middle East and North Africa. The existing studies on this topic have largely focused on a structuralist analysis, such as historical changes in relations among the state, Islamist power, and the Church. While this is an important contribution to showing how sectarianism is constructed by major political and religious institutions, it leaves out the experiences of ordinary Egyptians. Combining the theoretical and methodological frameworks of lived religion and intersectionality, this approach reveals lesser-known aspects of the daily lives of Copts as religious minorities in Egypt. Lived religion teaches us how religion helps Christians define or reframe their discriminatory experiences, and the intersectionality of class, gender, and geography offers a more systematic and comprehensive understanding of sectarianism, without homogenizing Christians. As a political sociologist, Prof. Ha studies how macro-level power structures shape sectarian boundaries among ethnic and religious groups and how minorities make sense of their identities and status in turn. Her current research examines sectarian interactions between Egyptian Christians and Muslims with an intersectional lens to understand how in the post-Arab Uprisings Christian minorities' daily interactions unfold differently based on their gender, social class, and geography. This research provides an analysis of the lived experience of minorities in the contemporary Middle East, which advances the literature of sectarianism that has mainly focused on structural analysis of political actors, such as the state and Islamist groups. Questions: Register:


Featured, Global, Humanities, Lecture/Talk, Middle East focus, Politics, Research, Social Sciences