Keynote Speaker - MEICON-BC 2014

We are honoured that Dr. Mojtaba Mahdavi accepted our invitation to speak at the Sixth Annual Student Conference. We thank and welcome him to Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

Dr. Mojtaba Mahdavi

Dr. Mojtaba Mahdavi will present his paper entitled, Whither the New Middle East? The Quest for Universalism from Below.


Social justice, freedom, fairness, and human dignity have been people slogan in contemporary social movements in the Middle East and North Africa. However, Syria’s predicament, Egypt’s dilemma, and the ascendency of the Islamist parties after the Arab Spring have contributed to the resurgence of the old discourse of Muslim Exceptionalism and democratic deficit in the Middle East, i.e. Muslims are exceptionally immune to democratic values/movements, and they are “simply not ready for free and fair elections.” This talk is an attempt to problematize this argument. We will examine whether and how contemporary social movements in the Middle East and North Africa represent a beginning of a new historical era for the Middle East – an emerging paradigm shift from two hegemonic discourses of the post-Cold War era: Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and Francis Fukuyama’s End of History. More importantly, we will discuss whether these movements symbolize an evolving discursive turn from three postcolonial ideologies of Third World nationalism, state-led socialism, and militant Islamism. In other words, is a New Middle East emerging from the ruins of colonial/postcolonial discourses? The New Middle East faces some socio-political challenges. Nonetheless, it has projected an emerging third alternative approach to the hegemonic universalism of colonial modernity and the essentialist/nativist particularism of Islamist polity. This third way suggests that each culture/nation should engage in a critical dialogue with its own tradition and formulates universal values of democracy and social justice in a local language that can be implemented through local/homegrown institutions. It signifies a quest for a critical dialogue between tradition and modernity, expedites the possibility of emerging subaltern modernities, a gradual shift from Islamism toward post-Islamism, and sustainable social changes from within. This is a radical call for universalism from below to build and materialize a people’s Middle East.


Mojtaba Mahdavi is Associate Professor of Political Science and Middle East studies at University of Alberta. His recent books include Towards the Dignity of Difference? Neither End of History nor Clash of Civilizations (co-edited, Ashgate Publishing 2012) and Under the Shadow of Khomeinism: Problems and Prospects for Democracy in Post-revolutionary Iran (Rowman & Littlefiled, forthcoming). He is currently working on two book projects: Post-Islamism in Context: Neo-Shariati Discourse, and Political Sociology of Postrevolutionary Iran. His contributions have appeared in several refereed journals and essays, edited volumes and interviews in English, Farsi, Arabic and Turkish languages. Dr. Mahdavi has given numerous public talks and lectures to a variety of academic institutions and communities in North America and the Middle East. He was the Liu Institute Visiting Fellow in Residence at Green College, University of British Columbia (2012-13). He is the recipient of several awards and grants including those from The Conference Fund of the SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada), the IDRC Canada Partnerships Grant, Killam Research Operating Grants, and the Worldwide University Network (WUN) Grant. Dr. Mahdavi’s research interests lie in social movements and democratization in the Muslim World; secularism, Islamism and post-Islamism; modern Islamic political thought, comparative political theory, and international politics of the Middle East.