Abdullah Al-Arian, Roundtable Organizer and Editor of Critical Currents in Islam page:
Five years ago, we brought together the leading scholars of the study of political Islam and invited them to weigh in on the future of Islamism in the wake of uprisings that had recently swept the Arab region. In their discussion, they explored avenues for the continued expression of Islamism as a coherent political project in light of mass mobilizations, resurgent state repression, and destructive civil conflicts. In the intervening years, the spaces for popular protest have narrowed considerably, while the latter conditions have become more deeply entrenched. Through it all, the position of movements continuing to espouse political Islam has been reshaped by these developments, presenting new and more pressing questions regarding their current trajectory. Are the shifts these movements are experiencing generational or ideational in nature? How has populism influenced the evolution of Islamic movements and their response to the Arab uprisings? Perhaps more significantly, how have the Arab uprisings forced us to rethink grand narratives about the nature of Islamic movements?
We are fortunate to have been able to bring together four of the five participants in the original roundtable for a renewed discussion on these critical questions. The result has been an even more fruitful and thought-provoking set of responses that touch on wider issues concerning the evolving place of Islamists in the region. According to these perspectives, while recent developments have exposed the limits of Islamism as a force in Arab politics, they have paved the way for broadening the scope of how these movements are examined. The divergent experiences of these movements have revealed new avenues to observe the varied trajectories of individual activists, rethink the nature of radicalization, and challenge the prevailing religious-secular binary that often colors such discussions. As Nathan Brown noted, in the absence of formal spaces for political contestation, “politics lies elsewhere.”
Along with Brown, the roundtable features contributions by Asef Bayat, Jillian Schwedler, and John Voll. Following the first round of initial reflections, a second round of responses includes the participants’ rejoinders to one another.