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The Alawis of SyriaWar, Faith and Politics in the Levant$
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Michael Kerr and Craig Larkin

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190458119

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190458119.001.0001

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Community, Sect, Nation

Community, Sect, Nation

Colonial and Social Scientific Discourses on the Alawis in Syria During the Mandate and Early Independence Periods

(p.63) 3 Community, Sect, Nation
The Alawis of Syria

Max Weiss

Oxford University Press

Historians of the modern Middle East have long been concerned with the politics of identity, community and sect. The history of modern Syria remains bound up with the problematic of diversity and difference, most commonly explored in terms of minorities and sectarianism. In order to better understand struggles to describe, understand and master both categories and practices of minority and sect in the context of modern Syria, this chapter considers a variety of discourses on the Alawi community during the French Mandate and early independence periods. Scholarly discussion of sectarianism in modern Syria may run the risk of reifying sectarian identities, practices and modes of imagination. But this liability should not obviate the imperative to think through the significance of particular events, individuals or moments in modern Syrian history as well as to call into question nationalist, sectarianist, communitarian and other forms of historiographical, political and intellectual discourse that touch upon issues pertaining to the sectarian. The point of such critical analysis would be neither to uncritically reproduce earlier “mosaicist” or “sectarianist” approaches to the study of modern Syria — indeed, it is precisely such methodological lenses that have obfuscated some of the most interesting and complex historical realities there — nor simply to reduce Syrians to their ascriptive sectarian affiliations. One may hope that broader engagements with the genealogies of sectarianism in modern Syria may yet contribute to a more capacious and less conflictual understanding of Syrian difference and diversity.

Keywords:   Alawi Community, Historiography, Sectarianism, Sectarian identities, French Mandate, Syrian Independence, Religious Minorities, Alawi discourses

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