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The Sacred as Secular: State Control and Mosques Neutrality in Post-Revolutionary Tunisia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 August 2018

Teije H. Donker*
University of Cambridge
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Dr. Teije Hidde Donker, University of Cambridge, 16 Mill Lane, Cambridge, UK. E-mail:


How are the characteristics of state–religion relations defined? The following paper provides a critical response to the competition perspective in studies on secularization, secularism, and mobilized religion. It argues that actors differ in how religion and state should relate to public life, not the extent that they should be integral or separate from each other. This paper substantiates its argument by exploring how in Tunisia––in a context of revolutionary, social and political instability––a variety of positions were articulated regarding the preferred position of Islam in relation to, first, national identity and, second, state authority. This is done in direct reference to one particular contentious issue: State control over mosques in name of ensuring the partisan neutrality of religious spaces in the country. This paper builds on multiple fieldwork visits to Tunisia and specifically Sfax, during which 32 individuals were interviewed. In addition, this paper builds on hundreds of primary and secondary sources.

Copyright © Religion and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association 2018 

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First of all, the author would like to thank his former colleagues at the University of Bergen, Norway, for providing the time and freedom to pursue this research project. He also would like to thank the editors of this special issues, Jeff Heynes and Erin Wilson, for their valuable critical feedback on various versions of this article. He is also grateful to the two anonymous reviewers from Politics and Religion for their extensive and precise critiques on a previous version. Finally, a special thanks to all those in Tunisia who were willing to be interviewed and in various ways supported the research project.



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