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Yadav on Yemeni Politics in Crimson

Stacey Philbrick Yadav, assistant professor of political science at HWS and a visiting scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, gave a talk recently at the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies. The talk was covered by the Harvard Crimson and focused on the practice of “takfir,” or the allegation of another’s apostasy.

Philbrick Yadav analyzed the growth of this practice and some of its anticipated and unanticipated consequences in Yemen. Among the unanticipated consequences, she argues, has been the emergence of a backlash against takfir from within the Islamist Islah party, and the strengthening of Islamist moderates who seek to curtail the practice. While the consequences of being labeled an apostate can be severe, the project helps to illustrate the wide variation of opinion among Islamists about the permissibility of engaging in takfir and its relationship to democratic practices.

Philbrick Yadav plans to return to Yemen in December and January to continue her research on the topic, and to observe the preparations for Yemen’s parliamentary elections, upcoming this spring.

She received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Middle Eastern studies from Smith College. She received a master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Pennsylvania. Her dissertation was titled “Islamist Parliamentary Practice and the Remaking of Democracy: Hizballah and Islah in Comparative Perspective.” A Dissertation Fellow with the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, she has teaching experience as a visiting instructor at Mount Holyoke College and a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. She also lived and worked in Egypt, Lebanon and Yemen from 2003-2006 studying the impact of Islamist participation in the reconfiguring of national politics in Lebanon and Yemen.

The full coverage of her talk in the Crimson is below.

The Harvard Crimson, online edition
Visiting Scholar Addresses Islamic Politics in Yemen
MARIANNA N TISHCHENKO • Contributing Writer • 11/13/2008


The suppression of apostasy, or religious disaffiliation, with the growth of Orthodox politics in Yemen was the focus of a talk given yesterday by Stacey Philbrick Yadav, a visiting scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies.

Throughout the lecture at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Yadav addressed the increasingly detrimental proliferation of “takfir”-which she translated loosely as an accusation that another has given up a belief in Islam and its tenets-and the exclusion of moderates among the country’s leadership.

“There’s little evidence from Yemen for a linear relationship for which a party as a whole becomes moderate through participation in competitive politics,” Yadav said, explaining why party competition hasn’t brought the country’s politics more to the center.

She said that although moderates are developing new avenues for challenging takfir, such as through “a movement within the Islamist Islah party which might best be called moderate,” few are willing to step outside of the boundaries of what is considered Orthodox.

Yemenis are cautious for good reason, however, as the consequences of apostasy can take the form of extra-judicial violence, according to Yadav.

“It’s very hard to find Muslims who are willing to describe themselves as apostates or heretics,” Yadav said.

Yadav, who is also an assistant professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, specializes in comparative politics of the Middle East and teaches classes in Middle East politics, comparative politics, and Islamic political thought.

In addition, she has conducted research on the role of Islamist organizations in the transformation of public spheres in several Middle Eastern countries, including Yemen.

CMES Director Steven C. Caton, who organized the lecture series, said he was excited to have Yadav deliver the lecture, called “Harnessing Apostasy: Excommunicative Discourse and Opposition Politics in Yemen,” particularly because political science experts who focus on the Middle East are a rarity at Harvard.

“We were very happy to have her-she spoke about a country we know very little about,” Caton said.

He also said that “the lecture was very interesting and accessible.”

The next lecture in the series, “Poetry as History,” will be given by Dean of Kuwait University Mohammed Sharafuddin next Thursday at the center.

The Nov. 13 story (above) from the Harvard Crimson called, “Visiting Scholar Addresses Islamic Politics in Yemen,” contained several errors. The story referred to the practice of declaring that another has given up faith in Islam as “tut phir” instead of “takfir,” misstated the title of the talk, and misquoted the speaker as saying “comparative politics” when she in fact said “competitive politics.” In addition, the story also erroneously stated that the punishment for apostasy may be “excommunication” and suggested that moderates are developing new “sectarian movements” in Yemen. In fact, there is no body to formally excommunicate individuals in Islam, and the moderate movement is an intellectual one within the Islamist Islah party.