As a political and cultural sociologist, I study the intersection of nationalism, politics, and religion.  I am currently working on several projects that also examine democratization, citizenship, collective memory, and state formation.  My research has been funded by the University of Michigan, the Social Science Research Council, George Washington University, Georgetown University, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Guardians of Religion: Islam, Nation, and Democratization in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia

While the protest slogans of the Arab Spring were largely framed around issues of economic inequality, dignity, and political inclusiveness, Islam’s role in democratic, public life has emerged as a central issue in post-revolutionary debates. In my dissertation I examine the historical evolution of a discourse of a nationalized Tunisian Islam, utilized by both those in power and the opposition, and its impact on Tunisian national identity from independence to the present. I focus on central question of how Islam is constitutive of Tunisian national identity in the post-revolutionary state (2011-2014) and how the process of democratization has affected this relationship.  I argue that instead of the prevailing interpretation of the events described above as a struggle between secular and religious actors over the role of Islam in the public sphere, we should view contemporary Tunisian politics, in Bourdieusian terms, as a continuing struggle for control of the religious field in which there is broad political and societal agreement that the state is, in the words of Article 6 of the Constitution, “the guardian of religion” and should have an active religious role.  In analyzing how Tunisian Islam is constitutive of national identity, I examine the role of religion in the constitutional drafting process, electoral campaigns, historical commemorations, and contemporary cultural production

State Formation in Yemen: Unification & Secession

The 20th century has arguably been one of state building, with the number of independent states nearly tripling by its close. Yemen, along with Germany, is one of the only examples of the unification of existing states.  In 1990, the northern Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) and the southern People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) unified, or as described by many Yemeni sources reunified, to form the present Republic of Yemen. This project utilizes Yemen as a means to understand the role of national identity, particularly through the construction of national narratives, in two opposing state formation processes: unification and secession. In the first part of the project focusing on unification, I examine narratives produced by Yemeni state ministries and officials in state-issued textbooks and presidential speeches as discursive spaces used to explain Yemen’s history and the reasons for the 1990 unification. In the second part of the project focusing on secession, I examine counter-narratives offered Southern Secessionist Movement, which seeks to reestablish an independent South Yemeni state, and the ways in which it constructs a separate “Southern” identity, distinct from the “unified” Yemeni identity discussed in the first part of the project.

Questioning Citizens, Examining the Nation: A Comparative Study of Citizenship Exams

Though recent literature on globalization has posited an era of “global citizenship” that calls into question the saliency of national identities, a number of countries have recently rearticulated their criteria for citizenship, most notably in the form of citizenship tests for naturalization.  I argue that in addition to being mechanisms to regulate immigration, integration, and naturalization, these tests provide citizens, politicians, and government officials with symbolic space to discuss the meaning of modern membership in the state and national community.  While not the only source, citizenship tests offer one of the clearest government statements of what it means to be a citizen and the values, history, and laws that the government chooses to emphasize above others.  In particular I examine the treatment of Islam and Islamophobia.  I currently am working on two projects that utilize citizenship tests as a lens to understand contemporary practices of state and national membership.  In the first, I examine citizenship tests in the United Kingdom and tensions over multiple identities (i.e. British, English, Northern Irish, Scottish, and Welsh).  In the second, I examine how these tests socialize immigrants into the nation’s collective memory through an analysis of how historical events, particularly controversial ones, are treated in the test-taking materials. These projects draw on archival research, comparative analysis, and fieldwork in the United Kingdom.