This introductory chapter provides an overview of the book’s main themes: how arguments over religion take place; how contentious they are; and the varying degrees to which they affect policy outcomes. While they can aggravate conflict and polarization, these problems stem less from their religious character than their lack of policy traction, and there are few mechanisms that induce participants to come to an agreement or affect a decision. It is their ineffectual nature, much more than their content, that makes the arguments increasingly divisive. The introduction lays out the aim of the book to describe what might be called an ethnography of existing Arab politics as it really is. It offers an explanation of the effects of political arguments over religion in the Arab world, focusing on whether people experience the political world differently or whether policy changes as a result of the vitality of political arguments over religion.
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