- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Symposium Aims to Reduce Sectarianism in Muslim World

| Summer 2018

The  Belfer Center’s Iran Project presented the First Annual Symposium on Islam and Sectarian De-escalation at Harvard Kennedy School on April 14-15. The symposium was organized by Iran Project director Payam Mohseni and co-sponsored by Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies, the Asia Center, the South Asia Institute, and the Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program. 

With more than 200 guests and dozens of speakers and participants who traveled to Cambridge from around the world, the symposium positioned the Belfer Center and Iran Project at the forefront of debates and discussion on the intersection of geopolitics and sectarianism in the Middle East and marks an important step forward in the Iran Project’s Islam and Sectarian De-Escalation Initiative. From the rise of ISIS and militant extremism in the context of an eroding Arab state system to the spillover of sectarian tensions in hotspots such as Syria and Iraq, the geopolitics of sectarianism has never been so critical nor religious and ethnic strife so corrosive in the modern history of the region. 

The symposium was timely in addressing the serious challenges that currently hinder sectarian de-escalation and pathways for peaceful co-existence and in contextualizing and differentiating the overlapping and driving factors behind the rising turmoil in the Middle East. By gathering a diversity of voices from leading religious authorities and civic community leaders, the symposium served as a platform for dialogue both within the Islamic tradition and between different religious groups. 

Leading American policymakers and scholars of Middle East politics also took part in discussing strategies for alleviating the lack of objective and comprehensive knowledge in the policy-making world regarding the intersection between religion and politics in the Middle East.

The symposium was a first step in a broader effort of the Iran Project’s Islam and Sectarian De-Escalation Initiative to address the larger issues impacting the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy. The two-day event provided impetus for the audience and speakers to extend the conversations to their own communities and to use their new connections to generate greater dialogue. 

The Project plans to build on the symposium conversations by publishing a post-conference report to share the research and policy findings with the broader community and policy-making world to help inform their decisions and suggest positive steps toward reducing sectarianism in the Islamic world.

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For Academic Citation:

"Symposium Aims to Reduce Sectarianism in Muslim World." Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2018).