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Religion, Violence and Nationalism in the Balkans and the Near East: Perceptions and Realities (19th-21st cent.) | EUJ 207

Instructor: Dimitris Livanios

Description and assessment of the course

The regions of the Balkan and the Near East, despite their differences, have been persistently considered as areas of “endemic” and “wanton” religious and nationalistic violence. The aim of this course is to critically examine the role of nationalism, violence and religion in these regions in order to allow the student to approach critically these and related issues within their rapidly changing historical context. Within that framework the course will discuss the role of Christianity and Islam concerning the shaping of collective identities, as well as the role of violence and its position in the construction of national identities. The course will thus shed light on crucial aspects of the historical formation of countries such as Greece, Bulgaria, (Former) Yugoslavia, Syria, Iraq, and Turkey.

Assessment: there are no written exams. Students are required to write a research-based essay of 5.000 words (minimum). Subjects will be chosen in consultation with the Professor. Students should also present short (15 minutes) presentations in class on specific subjects in consultation with the professor. These presentations (which can also be done jointly) will be taken under consideration for the formulation of the final grade.

Learning outcomes and aims

Upon successful completion of the course students should be able to

  1. Understand crucial aspects of the historical evolution of the Balkans and the Near East.
  2. Examine critically the role of violence, nationalism and religion in the construction of collective identities.
  3. Understand the commonalities and differences between Islam and Christianity, as far as collective identities are concerned.
  4. Analyse the issue of Muslim refugees in Europe
  5. Analyse the emergence of radical Islam.
  6. Enhance their research and writing abilities

Plan of teaching weeks

Week 1) Introduction

Objectives of the course, outline of teaching weeks, presentation of the main themes.

Week 2) The Balkan under the Ottoman Empire [15th – 19th centuries]

Historical outline of the Balkans under Ottoman rule, positions of the Christians under an Islamic regime, “tolerance” and the Islamic sacred law [sharia], role of violence and religion in a pre-modern era.  

Week 3) National revolutions

Historical outline of the national revolts against the Ottomans, national variations and commonalities, ro;e of religion in the revolutions, “brigand warfare”, intra-Balkan violence, the “ancient hatreds” argument.

Week 4: Case study 1: Macedonia

Historical outline of a persistent national issue, religion and collective identities, the emergence of Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian national positions, the role of violence in the shaping of collective identities.

Week 5): Macedonia II

The “Macedonian Struggle” [1904-1908]: violence as mid-wife of violence.

Week 6): Case study 2: The Balkan Wars [1912-1923]

The Balkan Wars as the high point of violence in the Balkans. State-sponsored violence and local realities.

Week 7): Refugees and population exchanges

Populations exchanges as a form of “ethnic cleansing”. The role of religion in determining the “nationality” of the refugees.

Week 8: Case study 3: Pogroms and Massacres: The “Armenian Genocide” in context

Pogroms in the Balkans and the Near East, historical considerations. The history of the “Armenian massacres in the Ottoman Empire, and the controversy that it has generated.

Week 9): The Near East and Islam

Historical outline of the presence of Islam in the Near East, islamisation and Christianity, the myth of the “violent islamisation.”

Week 10): The Syrian civil war

The Syrian civil war in context, the role of religion in the civil conflicts. Suni and Shia Islam in Syria

Week 11):  Political Islam and Terrorism

The issue of radical Islam in history, varieties of political Islam. The emergence of militant Islamic organizations (Al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State).

 Week 12) Political Islam in the West: Refugees and “European Muslims”.

The role of refugees in the surge of terrorist activities: “much ado about nothing”. The issue of “home-grown terrorist”. The position of Islam in European societies.

Week 13): Conclusion of the course

Concluding remarks concerning the role of religion and violence in the Balkans and the Near East, subjects for essays and further research.

5) Selected Bibliography

This bibliography is highly selective and provides the essential books that should be consulted throughout the semester for essays and background knowledge. More detailed bibliographies on individual subjects will be distributed in class.

  • Mazower, The Balkans
  • Stavrianos, The Balkans since 1453
  • Yapp, Malcolm, The Making of the Modern Near East (2 vols)
  • Hourani, Albert: The Emergence of the Modern Middle East
  •             –//–            Syria and Lebanon a Historical Essay
  • Kitromilides, A Christian Commonwealth
  • Hupchick, The Balkans
  • Jelavich, History of the Balkans (2 vols)
  • Yerolymatos, Balkan Wars
  • Zurcher, Erik, Turkey: A Modern History
  • Lewis, Bernard, The Emergence of Modern Turkey
  • Brailsford, H.N., Macedonia: its races and their future
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Inquiry into the causes and conduct of the Balkan Wars
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Beirut Office) [this organization publishes in its website a number of scholarly articles on the Syrian civil war.]
  • Tibi, Bassam, Violence and Religious fundamentalism in political Islam
  • McTernan, Oliver, Violence in God’s Name: Religion in an Age of Violence
  • Wiley Interscience, The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence
  • Akcam, Taner, From Empire to Republic: Turkish nationalism and the Armenian Genocide.

6) Contact

Dimitris Livanios, Assistant Professor of Modern History, can be reached at livanios@jour.auth.gr His office hours will be announced on the first session of the course.