Coauthor
  • JAFFRELOT Christophe (3)
  • KIENLE Eberhard (2)
  • BONNEFOY Laurent (2)
Document Type
  • Article (16)
  • Part or chapter of a book (12)
  • Book (7)
  • Periodical issue (5)
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Laurence Louër is the author of recently published Sunnis and Shi‘a. A Political History, with Princeton University Press. A great specialist of Shia Islam and politics as well as identity politics in the Middle East, Laurence answers our questions and helps us better understand the – mimetic – rivalry between Shi‘a and Sunni and its relation to other identities and political objectives. Interview by Miriam Perier, CERI.

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When Muhammad died in 632 without a male heir, Sunnis contended that the choice of a successor should fall to his closest companions, but Shi’a believed that God had inspired the Prophet to appoint his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, as leader. So began a schism that is nearly as old as Islam itself. Laurence Louër tells the story of this ancient rivalry, taking readers from the last days of Muhammad to the political and doctrinal clashes of Sunnis and Shi’a today. In a sweeping historical narrative spanning the Islamic world, Louër shows how the Sunni-Shi’a divide was never just a dispute over succession—at issue are questions about the very nature of Islamic political authority. She challenges the widespread perception of Sunnis and Shi’a as bitter enemies who are perpetually at war with each other, demonstrating how they have coexisted peacefully at various periods throughout the history of Islam. Louër traces how sectarian tensions have been inflamed or calmed depending on the political contingencies of the moment, whether to consolidate the rule of elites, assert clerical control over the state, or defy the powers that be. Timely and provocative, Sunnis and Shi’a provides needed perspective on the historical roots of today’s conflicts and reveals how both branches of Islam have influenced and emulated each other in unexpected ways. This compelling and accessible book also examines the diverse regional contexts of the Sunni-Shi’a divide, examining how it has shaped societies and politics in countries such as Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, and Lebanon.

in Routledge Handbook of Minorities in the Middle East Edited by ROWE Paul Publication date 2018-11
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Even when they are a numeric majority, as in Iraq and Bahrain, most of the time Shi’is in the Arab world are not part of the highest strata of the social hierarchy, be it in terms of status and/or class position. They generally express deep-seated feelings of being discriminated against, and the rhetoric of Shi’i Islamic movements often refers to the Shi’is as the “deprived” (al-mahrumin) or the “oppressed” (al-musta’dafin). This way of experiencing themselves as victims echoes the historical marginalization of the Shi’is in the power struggles that followed the death of Prophet Mohammed. The origin of the Sunni/Shi’i divide indeed lies in the two main factions that contested for the succession to Muhammad: the Shi’is thought that the latter should have been followed by a line of imams recruited into the lineage of Ali ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin and trusted companion, and Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter. According to the Shi’is, the Imams have access to hidden meanings of the divine message and have been entrusted by God to reveal them to an elite. While Ali became the fourth caliph, his descendants never ruled after his death, and the imams were only religious and community leaders. Their line died away in 874 with the disappearance of the twelfth imam. The majority of Shi’is (known as ithna’shari, or “Twelvers”) think he has been occulted by God to protect him against plots of the caliphs and that he shall return at the End of Time to install truth and justice.

in Archives de sciences sociales des religions Publication date 2018-06
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Le mouvement de protestation qui a eu lieu au Bahreïn en 2011 a été caractérisé par une dynamique de confessionnalisation qui a marqué autant les mobilisations elles-mêmes que leur cadre d'interprétation par certains acteurs extérieurs.

in Pan-Islamic Connections. Transnational Networks Between South Asia and the Gulf Edited by JAFFRELOT Christophe, LOUER Laurence, JAFFRELOT Christophe, LOUER Laurence Publication date 2017-12
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South Asia and the Gulf countries are often seen as belonging to two different universes. Indeed, the contemporary geopolitical division of the world situates the former in Asia and the latter in the Middle East. This geographical slicing matches part of the dynamics that shape contemporary world politics, in which the Gulf, in great part because of the oil wealth, has emerged as a new economic, political and religious hub but also as an area of tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two states that struggle to impose themselves as representing 'true Islam' ands to lead the Muslim world. South Asia, for its part, tends to be seen from the Middle East mainly as a supplier of cheap labour to the Gulf and, as far as religion is concerned, as a recipient of 'orthodox' Islamic religious influences from the Gulf - be they Sunni or Shi'a - which rework the Indian Islamic civilization that developed in close relation with Sufism and Hinduism over several centuries...

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South Asia is today the region inhabited by the largest number of Muslims—roughly 500 million. In the course of its Islamisation process, which began in the eighth century, it developed a distinct Indo-Islamic civilisation that culminated in the Mughal Empire. While paying lip service to the power centres of Islam in the Gulf, including Mecca and Medina, this civilisation has cultivated its own variety of Islam, based on Sufism. Over the last fifty years, pan-Islamic ties have intensified between these two regions. Gathering together some of the best specialists on the subject, this volume explores these ideological, educational and spiritual networks, which have gained momentum due to political strategies, migration flows and increased communications. At stake are both the resilience of the civilisation that imbued South Asia with a specific identity, and the relations between Sunnis and Shias in a region where Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a cultural proxy war, as evident in the foreign ramifications of sectarianism in Pakistan. (Publisher's abstract)

Entretien avec Laurence Louër et Christophe Jaffrelot par Miriam Périer dans le cadre de la parution de l’ouvrage qu’ils ont dirigé, chez Hurst Publisher, intitulé Pan Islamic Connections. Transnational Networks between South Asia and the Gulf.

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Lorsque l’on évoque les relations entre les sunnites et les chiites, on les caractérise volontiers comme une guerre sans fin qui durerait depuis plus d’un millénaire. Elle aurait pour fondement des haines ancestrales liées à des divergences à propos de la succession du prophète Mahomet. Or, au cours de l’histoire, ces controverses ont été activées ou désactivées en fonction du contexte politique, notamment quand le sunnisme et le chiisme ont servi d’idéologies de légitimation à des États rivaux. Aujourd’hui, la rivalité entre l’Arabie saoudite et l’Iran s’est substituée au conflit entre les Ottomans et les Safavides au XVIe siècle. Elle internationalise et lie entre eux des conflits locaux qui étaient indépendants, introduit des enjeux religieux dans des luttes politiques, rigidifie des identités confessionnelles fluides. Pour comprendre ces dynamiques, cet ouvrage propose à la fois une histoire globale des relations entre sunnites et chiites et une étude historique et sociologique de quelques situations nationales, du Liban à l’Iraq en passant par le Yémen et le Pakistan. (Résumé éditeur)

in L'Enjeu mondial. Religion et politique Edited by DIECKHOFF Alain, PORTIER Philippe Publication date 2017-09-14
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Les tensions entre sunnites et chiites relèvent-elles d’une dynamique unique ou bien au contraire de l’agrégation de processus locaux créant a posteriori un effet d’ensemble ? Elles sont en réalité au confluent de dynamiques régionales et locales. On observe en effet que les identités confessionnelles sunnite et chiite sont incarnées dans des Etats, notamment l’Arabie Saoudite et l’Iran, qui s’en servent comme outil d’influence à l’extérieur de leurs frontières. Leur action s’articule cependant aux dynamiques locales de la structuration des relations inter-confessionnelles, liée à des facteurs historiques, sociaux et politiques spécifiques.

in European Review of International Studies Publication date 2016-12
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Compte rendu de l'ouvrage Christopher M. Davidson, After the Sheikhs. The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies (London: Hurst, 2012, pp. 224, ISBN 978-1-84904-189-8)

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