In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Nationalism

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Anthologies and English Translations
  • Journals
  • Foundations of nationalism
  • Secularism and nationalism: the unique case of Turkey

Islamic Studies Nationalism
Michael B. Bishku
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0056


The term “nationalism” refers to a process by which a group (or groups) of people who possess one or many real or imagined common characteristics—usually language, history, culture and religion—join together, either seeking some form of autonomy within a state or striving to achieve independence so that they may establish their own state. Nationalism could also involve either combining states with inhabitants who possess common characteristics, or looking to annex neighboring territories in which those people inhabit; the former is the goal of “pan-ethnic” movements, while the latter is referred to as “irredentism.” Besides “ethnic” nationalism (as a result of war, decolonization, or the breakup of multiethnic empires), “territorial” nationalism also developed. Both ethnic and territorial nationalism can exist simultaneously, as has been the case in areas of the Islamic world. Religious identity has also been an important factor in shaping nationalism in the Balkans and the Middle East, due in large part to the long history in the Ottoman Empire of the “millet” (Turkish for “nation”) system, which was based on confessional association. (The same can be said for Christian Europe, as the Old Testament provided the original model of a nation and has had an influence up through to the present.) The modern Middle East and South Asia include two countries established on the basis of religious affiliation—Israel and Pakistan—as well as one dominated by members of the ulema: the Islamic Republic of Iran. At the same time, the modern Middle East also includes Turkey, whose founding father, Kemal Ataturk, promoted secularism alongside nationalism. In certain countries in the West—the United States, Great Britain, and France—due to the effects of secularism or the fact that there is not one prevailing group, “civic” nationalism has been promoted. In Asia and Africa, however, nationalism has been in part a movement in reaction to European imperialism and promoted by indigenous elites seeking to raise the level of development in society. In the process, attempts were made to diminish the effects of tribalism or regionalism. In certain cases, having a common enemy or not wanting to be dominated by a more powerful neighbor has enhanced nationalistic feelings. The issue of “others” within territorial boundaries has also been used by a particular group—usually a majority and sometimes a minority, as in the case of the Sunni in Iraq—to maintain dominance within a state and promote nationalism.

Introductory Works

The introductory works on nationalism listed below lean towards Eurocentrism, with Spencer and Wollman 2002 being the exception. Even Kedourie, who has the greatest connection with the study of the Islamic world, sees nationalism as a European invention that has a mixed record of application in the Middle East (Kedourie 1993). These works, which can be used as textbooks in undergraduate and graduate university classes, introduce the different concepts and theories of nationalism using thematic and historical approaches. Anthony Smith has been one of the most well known theorists to try to bridge the gap between the “modernist” school of thought, which regards the French and American revolutions as the starting points of nationalism, and the views of the “primordialists” and “perennialists,” which regard the origins as being immemorial or going back at least to the premodern period (Smith 2002).

  • Alter, Peter. Nationalism. 2d ed. London: Edward Arnold, 1994.

    Provides a concise review and analysis of the origins and development of nationalism over the last couple of centuries.

  • Grosby, Steven. Nationalism: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Grosby discusses the concepts of “nations” and “nationalism” from social, philosophical, and anthropological perspectives.

  • Kedourie, Elie. Nationalism. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 1993.

    The origin of this book was a series of lectures during the 1950s. Kedourie describes the foundations and manifestations of nationalism as an ideology and a style of politics, first in Europe and later in Asia and Africa, and argues that Marxists viewed nationalist movements as being “right-wing” in contemporary Europe and “left-wing” in Asia and Africa.

  • Lawrence, Paul. Nationalism: History and Theory. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education, 2005.

    Surveys how historians, sociologists, and political theorists have viewed national identities since the 1850s.

  • Shafer, Boyd C. Faces of Nationalism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.

    A comprehensive historical study that discusses the problems in attempting to define the meaning of nationalism, the realities and myths of proto-nationalist sentiment, and the development of nationalism in Europe and the West, as well as to a lesser degree Asia and Africa.

  • Smith, Anthony D. Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2002.

    A concise introduction to the core concepts and ideology of nationalism, as well as the competing paradigms and theories of scholars in the field.

  • Spencer, Philip, and Howard Wollman. Nationalism: A Critical Introduction. London: Sage, 2002.

    A concise overview of the theories and theorists of nationalism, as well as a survey of classical and contemporary approaches, such as postcolonialism, postmodernism, feminism, and globalization studies.

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