In the SSRC’s Transformations of the Public Sphere essay forum, Seyla Benhabib considers the recent and ongoing uprisings in the Arab world as a novel hybridization of Muslim and modern politics, suggesting that it “is altogether possible that these young revolutionaries who stunned the world with their ingenuity, discipline, tenaciousness and courage will also teach us some new lessons about religion and the public square, democracy and faith . . . .”

What no commentator foresaw is the emergence of a movement of mass democratic resistance that is thoroughly modern in its understanding of politics and sometimes “pious,” but not fanatical – an important distinction that is permanently blurred over. Just as followers of Martin Luther King were educated in the black churches in the American South and gained their spiritual strength from these communities, so the crowds in Tunis, Egypt and elsewhere draw upon Islamic traditions of Shahada – being a martyr and witness of God at once! There is no necessary incompatibility between the religious faith of many who participated in these movements and their modern aspirations!

Read “The Arab Spring: Religion, Revolution and the Public Square” here.