Laura Thompson

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Harvard U.

Grant number

Gr. 9492

Approve Date

April 27, 2017

Project Title

Thompson, Laura A., Harvard U., Cambridge, MA - To aid research on 'Sacred Freedoms, Sacred Faith: Blasphemy Cases in Post-Arab-Spring Tunisia,' supervised by Dr. Malika Zeghal

LAURA ANNE THOMPSON, then a graduate student at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, received a grant in April 2017 to aid research on ‘Sacred Freedoms, Sacred Faith: Blasphemy Cases in Post-Arab-Spring Tunisia,’ supervised by Dr. Malika Zeghal. The grantee completed six months of dissertation research on a series of blasphemy cases in Tunis, Tunisia. While in the field, the grantee reconceptualized and expanded the project to include not only post-Arab-Spring blasphemy cases, but also a case from the mid-19th century Ottoman Regency of Tunis along with a case from the early 20th-century French protectorate. By studying these blasphemy cases together, the study eschews the common framing of post-2011 Tunisian blasphemy cases as negligible anomalies, imagining them instead as recurring societal mechanisms. Archival research was completed on the two historical cases under study, moving in between state-run libraries and archives and working with private booksellers and independent archivists. This initial period of work culminated in a public event the grantee co-organized with Sihem Lamine and moderated with Tunisian university professor Kmar Bendana. Regarding the post-Arab-Spring cases, the grantee gathered and began to analyze important paperwork concerning an unusual 2017 appeal related to a 2012 blasphemy case stemming from the television broadcast of a Franco-Iranian film. The study also interviewed lawyers defending artists in a never-closed 2012 blasphemy investigation stemming from an art exhibit. Finally, the work followed new blasphemy cases, including one against a primary teacher and another against a popular progressive scholar of Islam.