Secularism among Syrian Christians – University of Copenhagen

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Secularism among Syrian Christians

Andreas Bandak

This post doc. project is part of the collective research project SIME - Secular Ideology in the Middle East led by Associate Professor Sune Haugbolle, RUC and it focuses on various groups in both Syria and Lebanon and their stakes in and towards the secular. The project is funded by Velux Fonden and runs from December 1, 2012 to November 30, 2015.

In this project I explore the role and value ascribed to secularism among Syrian Christians. Christians in Syria have traditionally taken different positions on secularism. Famously, one of the founding fathers of the Ba’ath Party’s secular ideology was the Christian Syrian Michel Aflaq. Likewise a variety of Christians and intellectuals have positively endorsed secularism and organized politically in parties such as the Communist Party or the Ba’ath Party. Churches of various Orthodox and Catholic confessions have if not endorsed secularism actively then found it a viable way to gain a position in and through the secular framework guaranteed by the Syrian State. In a rapidly changing regional context, many Christians feel that state secularism, and by implication their own position, is under threat. In this complex situation both secular ideology and Christian tradition appear to be reconfigured. In this project it is exactly this process that I target: how secular traditions in the Levant are put to use and changed during the current uprising. The project concomitantly explores the broader landscape of the state, secular ideology and the Christian minority. The overall contention is that lived secularism(s) not only rests on deliberate ideological thought, but are engrained in the affective life of the nation with a particular importance as perceived by its minorities. In this sense secularism at the moment seems to grow increasingly more important for Levantine Christians, even if they disagree on the goals and implication of a process of secularization.