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Beyond the beyond(s): On the (many) third way(s) beyond primordialism and instrumentalism in the study of sectarianism

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This meta-study examines the nature of past and current theoretically informed debates on sectarian politics in the Middle East and identifies the biggest challenges and possible directions for the future study of sectarianism. Contrary to the conventional narrative about a “sectarian journey” torn between a flawed primordialist and instrumentalist approach in between which a new superior “third way” is needed, the article shows that both primordialism and instrumentalism are rare in the academic debate on sectarianism, quite similar to the broader ethnicity/nationalism debate. However, this has not resulted in a “new conventional wisdom” about how to proceed. Thus, the article identifies a cacophony of suggestions for how the much aspired-to third way should look like. Against this background, the article suggests that it is time to go beyond the ritual calls to “get beyond primordialism and instrumentalism.” Instead, it is time to devote more attention to examining the multiple already existing suggestions for “third ways”. Rather than highlighting a single third way as superior, the article contributes to this move in two ways: it shows how the various third ways can be grouped into three “beyond strategies” (the New Saviour, the Baby and the Bathwater, and the LEGO eclectic strategies) and outlines a number of meta-theoretical issues to consider in order to move the debate forward.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNations and Nationalism
Pages (from-to)91-107
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

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