Integration, Identity Construction and the Role of Religion in the Middle East: The Case of the Iraqi Yezidis

December, 2010 to November, 2014
Hungarian Scientific Research Fund

This research project deals with the role of religion in the construction of ethnic identity in the Middle East through the example of the Iraqi Yezidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious minority. For centuries Yezidis, who follow a heterodox religion based on oral tradition, were excluded both from the community of the Muslims, and from the protected communities of the “People of the Book.” Today, however, the Yezidis are being pulled increasingly into the nationalist discourse taking place among the different ethnic groups in the region. Most importantly, they have been “awarded” an important ideological role in the Kurdish national movement as the surviving guardians of the “original Kurdish religion.” The project looks at what makes Yezidis opt for one ethnic identity rather than another (Kurd, Arab, Yezidi or even Assyrian) and analyses the impact such choices, and the need to achieve integration in a wider society in general, have on Yezidi religion. Not only will the role of religion in constructing an ethnic/religious identity be examined, but also, inversely, how embracing a certain ethnicity, especially Kurdish national aspirations, is affecting Yezidi religion, the ongoing process of scripturalization (creating a text-based religion), the re-writing of mythology, and the transformation of the traditional religious hierarchy and related religio-cultural institutions.