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.