International Workshop: Religion and Secularism as Problem Space in Postcolonial Occidentalist Discourses within the MENA Region

Housamedden Darwish's picture
November 3, 2022 to November 4, 2022
Subject Fields: 
Arabic History / Studies, Colonial and Post-Colonial History / Studies, Islamic History / Studies, Middle East History / Studies

International Workshop at the Centre for Advanced Studies
“Multiple Secularities – Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities”, Leipzig University
3–4 November 2022

Hybrid event format, on-site event at Leipzig University and online via Zoom.

Sponsored by: Academics in Solidarity, Centre for Advanced Studies “Multiple Secularities – Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities” at Leipzig University, and Institute for the Study of Religions at Leipzig University


The workshop aims to discuss the question of religion and secularity/secularism in (postcolonial) Occidentalist discourses and their critiques in the MENA region. The question of religion plays a pivotal role in both the Orientalist view of the “Orient” and the Occidentalist view of the “Occident”. While the Orientalist view is indebted to a binary perspective on religion and the secular, with stereotypical essentializations of the religious dimensions of the “Orient”, the Occidentalist view oscillates between two apparently contradictory reductions, which present the “Occident” alternatively as Christian or as secular. Furthermore, dominant Occidentalist discourses in the MENA region self-identify with Islam in a way that overlaps with Orientalist imaginaries of an essentially Islamic Orient.

The workshop intents to explore the trajectories of postcolonial Occidentalist discourses in the MENA region. It aims to reflect on their various genealogies, forms, and contents. Postcolonial Occidentalism draws heavily on Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), and Hassan Hanafi’s Introduction to the Science of Occidentalism (1991). Critical stances of postcolonial Occidentalist discourses towards the “West/Orient” are thereby often entangled with academic critiques of secularism (e.g. Asad, and Mahmood), democracy and liberalism (e.g. Massed), the modern state (e.g. Hallaq), as well as modernity and civilisation (e.g. Abdel-Rahman and El-Messiri).

This workshop endeavours to bring together empirical case studies on particular Occidentalist debates, including their historical trajectories with theoretical reflections on Occidentalism and Orientalism in the MENA region. The guiding research questions of the workshop are:

  • What role does the question of religion and the secular as a problem space of modernity play in MENA-region Occidentalist discourses as well as critiques directed against them?
  • What are the characteristics of Islamic postcolonial Occidentalism, compared to other forms of Occidentalism?
  • To what extent and how do postcolonial Occidentalist discourses in the MENA region relate to postcolonial theories and (the critique of) Orientalism?
  • What is the role of Occidentalist and Orientalist imaginaries in the formation and contestation of cultural, social, religious and political identities in the MENA region?
  • What role do Occidentalist discourses, and their critiques play in political projects in the MENA-region (within national contexts, regionally, within international Islamic publics, as well as in the political relations of MENA-region states to Europe)?


The workshop will take place as a hybrid event. The corresponding connection data will be made available to all registered participants shortly beforehand. If you wish to attend the workshop, please send a short inquiry to

Contact Info: 

Convenors: Housamedden Darwish (Leipzig University), Markus Dreßler (Leipzig University)

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