Secularism and the Religious Shift in Palestinian Chicago: Implications for Solidarity and Activism

This article analyzes transformations in Palestinian secularism, specifically in Chicago, Illinois, in response to the weakening of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the emergence of Islamic reformist structures since the late 1980s. Up until then, secular community organizations that aligned with the secular-oriented Palestinian political factions constituted the ideological center of this community. Beginning in the late 1980s, however, a discernible religious shift began to take place. The analysis draws from extensive fieldwork (2010–15) to show how secularism has not disap-peared but rather transmuted into new, often hybrid forms whose lack of institutionalization reflect the attenuation of secularist structures and ori-entations. The weakening of the secularist milieu leaves individuals who have become disenchanted with the religious-sectarian shift (at the time of the fieldwork) with few alternatives for social connection, solidarity, and action. They forge their own idiosyncratic paths as a result.

Author biography: 

Loren D. Lybarger is an associate professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at Ohio University, where he teaches courses in Islamic studies, theories of religion, and religion and violence. He is the author of Palestinian Chicago: Identity in Exile (Oakland: University of California Press, 2020) and Identity and Religion in Palestine: The Struggle between Islamism and Secularism in the Occupied Territories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007). He is currently finishing a coauthored book on commemorative literacies and labors of justice in Argentina (under contract with Routledge).