Special Topics in Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism: Understanding Ethnic, Nationalist, and Religious Conflicts

JSIS B 525

Identity politics have once again become the main source of contemporary wars and other conflicts. For much of the twentieth century it seemed that ideological conflicts, between capitalist democracies and totalitarian fascist and communist states, were the main source of trouble. Now civil wars seem to stem mostly from contentious relations between groups that identify themselves according to various cultural criteria – language, religion, ethnicity, in some cases just regional differences, and sometimes nationality. Such conflicts can and have spilled over state boundaries and can still produce transnational wars, as they did in the past. When looked at closely many different kinds of group identity that seem to be very different from each other actually begin to look more similar and overlap. Thus religion, ethnicity, language, and nationality as well as other sources of deeply felt identity are sometimes highly correlated, though not always. Even when they are not, they can act in very similar ways. In this course we will look at some of the major sources of identity differences in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and in particular why some of these have turned violent, but others have not, and some never even rose to the level of conflict. We will do this through the readings of some important theoretical texts and some case studies. This is a seminar for graduate students, but qualified undergraduates are welcome to take it. There will be no exams. During the first two weeks the instructor will discuss the readings. After that, students will report on the weekly reading. Depending on how many students enroll for the course, we will have one or two presentations per week during weeks 3-10. Class discussion will be divided half into presentations, and half for general discussion.