Unpacking the role of religion in political transnationalism: the case of the Shi'a Iraqi diaspora since 2003

Oula Kadhum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the role of religion in political transnationalism using the case of the Shi'a Iraqi diaspora since 2003. The article focuses on three areas that capture important trends in Shi'a transnationalism and their implications for transnational Shi'a identity politics. These include Shi'a diasporic politics, transnational Shi'a civic activism, and the cultural production of Iraqi Shi'a identity through pilgrimages, rituals and new practices. It is argued that understanding Shi'a Islam and identity formation requires adopting a transnational lens. The evolution of Shi'a Islam is not only a result of the dictates of the Shi'a clerical centres, and how they influence Shi'a populations abroad, but also the transnational interrelationships and links to holy shrine cities, Shi'i national and international politics, humanitarianism and commemorations and rituals. The article demonstrates that Shi'a political transnationalism is unexceptional in that it echoes much of the literature on diasporic politics and development where diaspora involve themselves from afar in the politics and societies of their countries of origin. At the same time, it shows the exceptionalism of Shi'a diasporic movements, in that their motivations and mobilizations are contributing to the reification of sectarian geographical and social borders, creating a transnationalism that is defined by largely Shi'a networks, spaces, actors and causes. The case of Shi'a political transnationalism towards Iraq shows that this is increasing the distance between Shi'is and Iraq's other communities, simultaneously fragmenting Iraq's national unity while deepening Shi'a identity and politics both nationally and supra-nationally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)305-322
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2020


  • Iraq
  • civil society
  • international migration
  • military intervention
  • political Islam
  • religion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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