The “Men of Religion” in Contemporary Islam (1970‒2010)

Dominique Avon
Director of Studies at the École pratique des hautes études (EPHE), Assistant Director of the Institute of Islamic Studies and Societies of the Muslim World (IISMM) and member of IDEO

icon-calendar Sunday November 3ʳᵈ, 2019


While the internal situation of the Muslim world was favorable in the early 1970s (regained independence from the colonizers, training of religious elites in the West, unity of opinions on a draft of a constitution for an Islamic state…), it was the internal divisions that dominated from the late 1970s and early 1980s (Iranian revolution, Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, capture of the Great Mosque of Mecca, assassination of Sadat…).

While it is clear that external factors partly explain the crisis in the Muslim world (Israeli occupation, successive Gulf wars…), it is also necessary to take into consideration the depth of internal divisions in the Muslim world. Three questions can illustrate these divisions: 1) the question of morals —should all Islamic laws be preserved, and if so, should they really be applied, or should we ignore preserving these laws and officially abandoning certain parts of them?; 2) the question of the ideal Islamic political regime (caliphate, royalty, republic?), and 3) the question of the relationship to the past (return to an ideal past, selection and reinterpretation?)

The current strong opposition between the International Union for Muslim Scholars and the Muslim Council of Elders reflects these divisions, and only the future can tell which path Muslims will choose to take.

Click here to watch the video in French…

Positive history and sacred history

Dominique Avon, « Histoire positive et histoire sacrée autour de la pensée de Louis Massignon » in Cahiers d’étude du religieux 16 (2016).

Louis Massignon (1883‒1962) was one of the famous orientalists during the first part of the 20th c. His PHD was based on the life of a mystic Muslim, Manṣūr al-Ḥallāj (c. 858‒922), who was prosecuted and executed. Three factors explain his influence. First, his erudition combined with an exceptional strength of work which insured him to stay at the top of the discipline. Second, his connexion with the diplomatic services, which warranted him a political support. Third, his capacity to create a new path within the Catholic Church in which he became as much famous as contested. Some of his publications are meaningful of a specific conception in religious sciences. As the example of the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” will show, he rejected some results of exegesis or archaeological researches, in the name of a common word crossing religious traditions.

Read this article online (in French)…

Islam und Muslime im europäischen Kontext

Dominique Avon, « Islam und Muslime im europäischen Kontext. Reden eines medienwirksamen Menschen (1993‒2013) : Tariq Ramadan », in: Sabine Schmitz et Tuba Isik (dir.), Muslimische Identitäten in Europa. Dispositive im gesellschaftlichen Wandel, Transcript, Bielefeld, 2015, p. 267‒297.


avon-hezbollah-enDominique Avon & Anaїs-Trissa Khatchadourian, Hezbollah: A history of the “Party of God” (translated by Jane Mary Todd), Harvard University Press, Harvard, 2012, 256 pages.

For thirty years, Hezbollah has played a pivotal role in Lebanese and global politics. That visibility has invited Hezbollah’s lionization and vilification by outside observers, and at the same time has prevented a clear-eyed view of Hezbollah’s place in the history of the Middle East and its future course of action. Dominique Avon and Anaïs-Trissa Khatchadourian provide here a nonpartisan account which offers insights into Hezbollah that Western media have missed or misunderstood.

Now part of the Lebanese government, Hezbollah nevertheless remains in tension with both the transnational Shiite community and a religiously diverse Lebanon. Calling for an Islamic regime would risk losing critical allies at home, but at the same time Hezbollah’s leaders cannot say that a liberal regime is the solution for the future. Consequently, they use the ambiguous expression “civil but believer state.”

What happens when an organization founded as a voice of “revolution” and then “resistance” occupies a position of power, yet witnesses the collapse of its close ally, Syria? How will Hezbollah’s voice evolve as the party struggles to reconcile its regional obligations with its religious beliefs? The authors’ analyses of these key questions—buttressed by their clear English translations of foundational documents, including Hezbollah’s open letter of 1985 and its 2009 charter, and an in-depth glossary of key theological and political terms used by the party’s leaders—make Hezbollah an invaluable resource for all readers interested in the future of this volatile force.

Buy this book online…

Mr. Dominique Avon

Dominique Avon is French and lives in France.

Director of Studies at EPHE (École Pratique des Hautes-Études), PSL, chair “Intellectual history of contemporary Sunnism”, Dominique Avon is an associate professor of history and licentiate in Arabic.

He was lecturer at the University of Montpellier-III, then Professor at the University of Maine, in Le Mans.

He taught in Egypt (1992-1994) and in Lebanon (2004-2005). He has been a visiting professor in the United States (2014), Belgium (winter 2015-2016) and Italy (April-May 2020). He is a member of the GSRL-Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités laboratory (UMR 8582).

He is responsible of the “DCIE” collection (editions Peter Lang). He has authored, edited or co-edited around twenty books including La liberté de conscience. Histoire d’une notion et d’un droit (Rennes, PUR, 2020).