POLS 495

The Politics of Identity: Ethnicity, Religion and Conflict


Instructor: Kikue Hamayotsu                          Office: Zulauf 414

W: 3:30PM-6:10PM                                         Office Hours: M 12-1PM/W 11-1PM

DU464                                           E-mail: khamayotsu@niu.edu

                                                                            Phone: 815-753-7048


Course Overview:

This course surveys the various sources and forms of identity politics across the world. The course will focus on thematic questions that are essential to understanding various forms of political identity and political mobilization that are pertinent to the developing world generally (but not exclusively), including Asian, African, and Middle Eastern nations. The issues dealt in the course include nationalism, ethnic and sectarian violence, party politics, ethnic/religious minorities, religious movements, and terrorism.

Ethnic and religious identities manifest themselves in various forms of political mobilization in many parts of the world. Political parties in Malaysia, for example, are almost entirely based on ethnicity in stark contrast to Thailand and the Philippines. The onset of a multi-party political system in the post-authoritarian regime in Indonesia has witnessed the emergence of a large number of Islamic parties. Muslim separatist movements in Southern Thailand and the Southern Philippines have persisted more than a few decades till today and at times led to violent clashes with the state authorities. In contrast, a separatist movement in Aceh recently dissolved after it agreed to sign a peace agreement after a protracted struggle against Jakarta. Moreover, radical forms of Islamist mobilization and terrorist activities have grown conspicuous in recent years in the Muslim world, arousing concern both within Muslim and non-Muslim communities that “freedom of religion”their fundamental rightis in jeopardy.

Why are ethnic divisions so salient in political mobilization in some nations but not in others? Why are people willing to die for their faith or ethnicity? How can we explain the electoral weakness of Islamist parties in some countries despite rising religious consciousness in the Muslim community across the globe? Why have some nations experienced a number of ethnic and religious conflicts while others have not? Do these variations in outcomes across countries in the region have to do with culture, institutions, or other structural factors?

This course will offer students analytical tools and theoretical models to analyze such issues of political and policy significance from comparative perspectives. Students will learn how to account for various patterns of experiences across places and across times under investigation.

Course readings are chosen based on the merits of their analytical arguments rather than their country coverage, and combine theoretical literature and case studies from various countries and regions. The readings are intended to enable students to achieve the following goals: (1) to gain empirical and conceptual understandings of identity-based political mobilization; (2) to think comparatively across the developing world more generally; and (3) to address and debate theoretical questions in social science through empirical cases. We do not, therefore, cover every single country in the same depth, although empirical focus is given to Southeast Asia and the Muslim world. The course will refer to other cases including Africa, South Asia, and Europe, however, whenever they are relevant to our theoretical inquiry. 

This is a seminar course intended for graduate students. In order to encourage discussion and interaction among students, weekly class meetings will consist of brief lectures followed by student presentations and discussion. Students will make oral presentations and discuss the week’s readings.

The course is largely divided into three sections. The first is on various sources and forms of identity politics. The section introduces students to various theoretical models and analytical perspectives to study the origins and manifestations of ethnic/religious identity in politics. The second section focuses on varying patterns of identity politics. It explores how ethnic and religious identity shape political mobilization and political change in general, and the behaviors of state and societal actors in particular. In the third and final section, we will examine issues that broadly pertain to ethnic conflicts. Such issues as religious and ethnic conflicts, Islamic radicalism, terrorism, and management of—and solutions to—conflicts will be discussed here.

Prerequisites: Students are required to get permission of the instructor before enrollment.


Course Requirements:

1.      This is a reading-intensive and discussion-based course. All the course requirements will enable students to develop their analytical writing skills in the course of your study. Students are expected to come to class having done all the required readings beforehand and to actively initiate and participate in discussion. It is helpful to approach the readings with the following questions in mind: (a) what is the central question/debate? (b) what is the main argument? (c) what is the evidence for the argument? (d) what are the problems with the argument? (e) can you think of counterarguments?  Students should also address these questions in writing assignments.

2.      Two short analytical paper of 5-6pp. in length:

A)      The paper should provide a critical analysis of the week’s readings. The papers should first briefly summarize the main arguments of the readings and then provide a critique. A good paper will not just attempt to summarize or critique all the readings, but will focus on one central debate/argument that ties in several readings. Students are allowed to choose the weeks (topic of their liking) for which they will write their papers (see 4.A). The paper must be double-spaced and properly footnoted. [time table for this assignment will be given in the class]

3.      One research paper of 15-20pp. in length:

A)      Students will write a research paper that focuses on any one of the topics covered in the course. Students are asked to present their selected research project in the class to get feedback from their classmates and instructor (see 4.B). The presentation (and the paper) should be explicit about the following points:

        Question: what is your puzzle?

        Debates: what are the contending arguments in the existing literature?

        Hypothesis: what is your argument and findings?

        Case: what does your case(s) represent?

B)      The paper is meant to assess your ability to analyze some of the key themes of the course. Students are required to refer to the readings assigned for the course and are also expected to go beyond those required readings. The paper must be double-spaced and properly footnoted.

C)      Deadline: TBA

4.      Two class presentations:

A)      On the weekly readings:

        On the first day of class, students will be asked to sign up for one week in which to present. The presentation should not coincide with the short analytical papers.

        The presentation should be a critique of the readings and must address central controversies to stimulate class discussion. The critique can also include issues of policy relevance and/or comparative perspectives from outside the region (you can be creative). The presentation should be approximately 10 minutes.

        A week’s presenter should post a one-page long response paper that will navigate class discussion by Monday midnight. All the students have to read the paper before coming to the class.

B)      On the research paper project:

        After 4 weeks, students will present their research paper projects in turn to get feedback from their colleagues. Students are asked to sign up for a week in which to present.

        The presentation should focus on the points mentioned above (see 3.A) and should be approximately 10min. Students assigned to present in earlier weeks of the course will be expected to give more emphasis on their research questions and the contending arguments in the literature. Students assigned in later weeks will be expected to give more emphasis on their case studies and findings without neglecting their questions.


Grade distribution:

1.      Class attendance and participation 10%

2.      Presentations 20% (10% each)

3.      Analytical essays 40 % (20% each)

4.      Research essay 30%


Please note: late submission will result in grade reduction for a half-mark per day (e.g., “A” will be reduced to “A-” if submission is a day late).


Books to Purchase:

All of the books have been ordered at the university bookstore.


Anderson, Benedict R. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. 2nd ed. London: Verso.

Bowen, John R. 2006. Why the French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Horowitz, Donald L. The Deadly Ethnic Riot. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

Sidel, John T. Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006.

Straus, Scott. 2006. The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.


Class Schedule                                                               



Week 1-2 (Jan 16/Jan 23)   Introduction: Identity Formation in Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives

Required readings:

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books, 1973: chaps.9-10.

Horowitz, Donald L. The Deadly Ethnic Riot. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001: 1-42.

Posner, Daniel N. Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005: 1-20.

Rawi, Abdelal, Yoshiko M. Herrera, Alastair Iain Johnston, and Rose McDermott. 2006. Identity as a Variable. Perspectives on Politics 4 (4):695-712.

Recommended readings:

Brass, Paul R. Theft of an Idol. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997: 3-31.

Brass, Paul R. Language, Religion, and Politics in North India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974.

Keyes, Charles F. "Dialectics of Ethnic Change." In Ethnic Change, edited by Charles F. Keyes, 4-29. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.

Lande, Carl. 1999. Ethnic Conflict, Ethnic Accommodation and Nation-Building in Southeast Asia. Studies in Comparative International Development 33 (4):89-117.

Scott Jr., George. "A Resynthesis of Primordial and Circumstantialist Approaches to Ethnic Group Solidarity." Ethnic and Racial Studies 13, no. 2 (1990): 147-71.


Week 3 (Jan 30).  Identity Formation in a Historical Institutionalist Perspective: Colonialism

Required readings:

Hirschman, Charles. "The Meaning and Measurement of Ethnicity in Malaysia: An Analysis of Census Classifications." Journal of Asian Studies 46, no. 3 (1987): 555-82.

Laitin, David D. "Hegemony and Religious Conflict: British Imperial Control and Political Cleavages in Yorubaland." In Bringing the State Back In edited by Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer and Theda Skocpol. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Posner, Daniel N. "The Colonial Origins of Ethnic Cleavages:  The Case of Linguistic Divisions in Zambia." Comparative Politics 35, no. 2 (2003): 127-46.

Recommended Readings:

Benda, Harry J. The Crescent and the Rising Sun: Indonesian Islam under the Japanese Occupation 1942-1945. The Hague and Bandung: W.van Hoeve Ltd., 1958.

Laitin, David D. Hegemony and Culture: Politics and Religious Change among the Yoruba. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1986.

Roff, William R. The Origins of Malay Nationalism. 2nd ed. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1994.


Week 4 (Feb 6).               Nationalism: Making a “Nation” and “Race”

Anderson, Benedict R. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. 2nd ed. London: Verso: especially 1-162.

Marx, Anthony W. 2002. The Nation-State and Its Exclusion. Political Science Quarterly 117 (1):103-26.

Recommended readings:

Marx, Anthony W. 1998. Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of South Africa, The United States, and Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Week 5 (Feb 13).              Religion, Ethnicity and Nationalism: Contending Visions of Nation

Required readings:

Jackson, Peter A. "Withering Centre, Flourishing Margins: Buddhism's Changing Political Roles." In The Political Change in Thailand : Democracy and Participation edited by Kevin Hewison, 75-93. London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

Keyes, Charles F. "Buddhism and National Integration in Thailand." Journal of Asian Studies 30, no. 3 (1971): 551-68.

McKenna, Thomas M. "Appreciating Islam in the Muslim Philippines: Authority, Experience, and Identity in Cotabato." In Islam in an Era of Nation-States: Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia, edited by Robert W. Hefner and Patricia Horvatich, 43-73. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997.

Taylor, Robert H. "Perceptions of Ethnicity in the Politics of Burma." Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science 10, no. 1 (1982): 7-22.

Recommended readings:

Abinales, Patricio. Making Mindanao: Cotabato and Davao in the Formation of the Philippine Nation-State. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2000.

Hefner, Robert W., and Patricia Horvatich, eds. Islam in an Era of Nation-States: Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1997.

Keyes, Charles F., Laurel Kendall, and Helen Hardacre, eds. Asian Visions of Authority: Religion and the Modern States of East and Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

Pholsena, Vatthana. "Nation/Representation: Ethnic Classification and Mapping Nationhood in Contemporary Laos." Asian Ethnicity 3, no. 2 (2002): 175-97.




Week 6 (Feb 20).              Culture and Democracy: Cultural Claims and Critiques

Required readings:

Hefner, Robert W. Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000: chapters 1-2.

Huntington, Samuel P. "The Clash of Civilizations?" Foreign Affairs 72, no. 3 (1993).

Stepan, Alfred. "The World's Religious Systems and Democracy: Crafting The "Twin Tolerations"." In Arguing Comparative Politics, 213-53. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Tessler, Mark. "Islam and Democracy in the Middle East: The Impact of Religious Orientation on Attitudes toward Democracy in Four Arab Countries." Comparative Politics 34, no. 3 (2002): 337-54.

Recommended readings:

Diamond, Larry, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg, eds. Islam and Democracy in the Middle East, Journal of Democracy Book. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Liddle, R. William and Mujani, “Politics, Islam and Public Opinion” Journal of Democracy 15, 1, (January 2004) 109-123.

Roy, Olivier. "The Predicament of 'Civil Society' in Central Asia and the 'Greater Middle East'." International Affairs 81, no. 5 (2005).


Week 7 (Feb 27).             Culture and Democracy: Is Islam an Exception?

Required readings:

Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2000. Commitment Problems in Emerging Democracies: The Case of Religious Parties. Comparative Politics 32 (4):379-98.

Langohr, Vickie. 2001. Of Islamists and Ballot Boxes: Rethinking the Relationship between Islamists and Electoral Politics. International Journal of Middle East Studies (33):591-610.

Nasr, Vali. "The Rise of Muslim Democracy." Journal of Democracy 16, no. 2 (2005): 13-27.

Zakaria, Fareed. The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. New York W.W. Norton & Company, 2004: chap.4 (The Islamic Exception).


Week 8 (March 5).          Religious/Ethnic Minorities: Europe

Video: The War Within, CNN.                       

Required Readings:

Bowen, John R. 2006. Why the French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State, and Public Space. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fetzer, Joel S., and J. Christopher Soper. 2005. Muslims and the State in Britain, France, and Germany, Cambridge Studies in Social Theory, Religion, and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Recommended Readings:

Anderson, Benedict R. O' G. "Introduction." In Southeast Asian tribal groups and ethnic minorities : prospects for the eighties and beyond, edited by Benedict R. O' G Anderson, 1-15. Cambridge, MA: Cultural Survival, 1987.

Evans, Grant. "Internal Colonialism in the Central Highlands of Vietnam." Sojourn 7, no. 2: 274-304.

Skinner, G. William. “Creolized Chinese Societies in Southeast Asia,” in Sojourners and Settlers: Histories of Southeast Asia and the Chinese: in Honour of Jennifer Cushman. Edited by Anthony Reid with the assistance of Kristine Alilnus Rodgers. St. Leonards: Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with Allen & Unwin, 1996: 51-93.


March 10/12.      SPRING BREAK: NO CLASS



Week 9 (March 19).  Ethnic Conflict 1: Theories and Debates

Required readings:

Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. "Violence and the Social Construction of Ethnic Identity." International Organization 54, no. 4 (2000): 845-77.

Snyder, Jack L. From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict. New York: Norton, 2000: chaps.1, 6.

Wilkinson, Steven. Votes and Violence: Electoral Competition and Ethnic Riots in India. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004: 1-39.

Varshney, Ashutosh. "Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society: India and Beyond." World Politics 53, no.3 (2001): 362-98.

Recommended Readings:

Kakir, Sudhir. The Colors of Violence: Cultural Identities, Religion and Conflict. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2006. The Logic of Violence in Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kaufmann, Chaim. "Rational Choice and Progress in the Study of Ethnic Conflict: A Review Essay." Security Studies 14, no. 1 (2005): 167-94.

Petersen, Roger D. Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Varshney, Ashutosh. Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2002.


Week 10 (March 26).  Ethnic Conflict 2: Case Studies in Southeast Asia

Required readings:

Bertrand, Jacques. Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict in Indonesia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004: 1-27, 45-71, 184-223.

McCargo, Duncan. 2007. Thaksin and the Resurgence of Violence in the Thai South. In Rethinking Thailand's Southern Violence. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press.

McKenna, Thomas M. 1998. Muslim Rulers and Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press: 1-24, 69-85, 269-89.

Recommended readings:

Aragon, Lorraine V. "Communal Violence in Poso, Central Sulawasi: Where People East Fish and Fish East People." Indonesia, no. 72 (2001): 45-79.

Aspinall, Edward. 2006. Violence and Identity Formation in Aceh under Indonesian Rule. In Verandah of Violence: The Background to the Aceh Problem, edited by A. Reid. Seattle: Singapore University Press in association with University of Washington Press.

Che Man, W.K. Muslim Separatism: The Moros of Southern Philippines and the Malays of Southern Thailand. Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1990.


Kell, Tim. The Roots of Acehnese Rebellion, 1989-1992. Ithaca: Cornell Modern Indonesian Project, Southeast Asian Program, Cornell University, 1995.

McVey, Ruth. "Identity and Rebellion among Southern Thai Muslims." In The Muslims of Thailand, edited by A. D. W. Forbes. Gaya: Center for South East Asian Studies, 1989.

Pitsuwan, Surin. "Islam and Malay Nationalism: A Case Study of the Malay Muslims of Southern Thailand." Harvard University, 1982.

Schulze, Kirsten E. "The Free Aceh Movement (GAM): Anatomy of a Separatist Organization." Washington, DC: East-West Center Washington, 2004.

Wilson, Chris. "The Ethnic Origin of Religious Conflict in North Maluku Province, Indonesia, 1999-2000." Indonesia, no. 79 (2005): 69-91.


Week 11 (April 2).  Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide

Required readings:                   

Straus, Scott. 2006. The Order of Genocide: Race, Power, and War in Rwanda. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Taylor, John G. "East Timor: Counter-Insurgency and Genocide." In The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective, edited by Ben Kiernan. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Recommended readings:

Chandler, David. Voice from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.


Kiernan, Ben. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

Kiernan, Ben, ed. The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Robinson, Geoffrey. The Dark Side of Paradise: Political Violence in Bali. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1995: 1-18, 181-217, 235-272.


Taylor, John G. East Timor: The Price for Freedom. London: Zed Books, 2000.


Week 12 (April 9).           Religious Conflict 1: Uncivil Religions and Global Forces

Required readings:

Abuza, Zachary. 2002. Tentacles of Terror: Al Qaeda's Southeast Asian Network. Contemporary Southeast Asia 24 (3):427-65.


Anderson, Lisa. "Fulfilling Prophecies: State Policy and Islamist Radicalism." In Political Islam: Revolution, Radicalism, or Reform? edited by John L. Esposito. Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1997.

Goldstone, Jack A. "States, Terrorists, and the Clash of Civilizations." In Understanding September 11, edited by Craig Calhoun, Paul Price and Ashley Timmer, 139-58. New York: The New Press, 2002.

Hafez, Mohammed M. 2003. Why Muslim Rebel: Repression and Resistance in the Islamic World. Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Recommended readings:

Mamdani, Mahmood. Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror. New York: Pantheon Books, 2004.

Sageman, Marc. Understanding Terror Networks. Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.


WEEK 13 (April 16).  Religious Conflict 2: Uncivil Religions and Local Forces  

Required readings:

Hamilton-Hart, Natasha. "Terrorism in Southeast Asia: Expert Analysis, Myopia and Fantasy." Pacific Review 18, no. 3 (2005): 303-25.

Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. 2000. International Politics, Domestic Imperatives, and Identity Mobilization: Sectarianism in Pakistan, 1979-98. Comparative Politics 32 (2):171-90.

Sidel, John T. Riots, Pogroms, Jihad: Religious Violence in Indonesia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006.

Recommended readings:

Hasan, Noorhaidi. "Faith and Politics: The Rise of the Laskar Jihad in the Era of Transition in Indonesia." Indonesia 73 (2002): 145-69.

International Crisis Group. "Jemmah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia: Damaged but Still Dangerous." In Indonesian Briefing. Jakarta/Brussels: International Crisis Group, 2003.

van Bruinessen, Martin. "Genealogies of Islamic Radicalism in Post-Suharto Indonesia." South East Asia Research 10, no. 2 (2002): 117-54.


WEEK 14 (April 23).  Managing Ethnic Conflicts: Solutions?  

Required readings:

Horowitz, Donald L.  “Ethnic Conflict Management for Policymakers,” in Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies. Edited by Joseph Montville. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1990: 115-130.

Lijphart, Arend. “The Power-Sharing Approach,” in Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies. Edited by Joseph Montville. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1990: 491-509.

Zartman, I. William. "The Political Analysis of Negotiation: How Who Gets What and When." World Politics 26, no. 3 (1974): 385-99.


Recommended readings:

Lijphart, Arend. Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).

Montville, Joseph (ed). Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books 1990).

Moser, Caroline, and Elizabeth Sharader. "A Conceptual Framework for Violence Reduction." In Working Paper. Washington, DC: World Bank, 1999.


Ross, Marc. The Management of Conflict: Interpretations and Interests in Comparative Perspective. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.


WEEK 15 (April 30).      Review 

[Research Paper Due]