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

Preliminary abstract: In the wake of a 2010-2011 popular revolt that led Tunisians to end their autocratic regime and to begin a democratic transition, tense public debates erupted around a series of unprecedented blasphemy cases. My research seeks to understand why and how these blasphemy cases became public, by examining their political context and meaning. My project will study these blasphemy cases as concrete articulations of these discussions of the freedom of, and freedom from, religion, via legal documents, press reports, and interviews. Although a rich and innovative literature has recently dealt with blasphemy in minority and majority Muslim contexts, it has essentially centered on blasphemy’s affective and legal aspects. These cases will be used specifically to contextually examine the political and religious stakes of blasphemy accusations, made by Muslims, against Muslims, in a country whose state religion is Islam and whose president constitutionally a Muslim. It will evaluate the purchase of ‘semiotic ideologies’ and ‘moral injury’ in a Muslim context, two concepts which have been elaborated by Western academics to understand some Muslims’ angry reactions to Western acts of blasphemy, specifically in the Danish Cartoon controversy. Though these blasphemy cases stopped by 2014, due in part to a particularly perilous constitutional compromise, they have recently resurged with reports of a blasphemy investigation against a schoolteacher in southeastern Tunisia. This project will thus also study subsequent cases, via examination of legal documents, as well as via participant-observation in the courtroom.