March 26, 2019

SECWAC Presents Talk by Conn. College Prof. Sayej Tonight on Nationalism in Post-Saddam Iraq

Carollen Sayeh

The Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC) has announced that Caroleen Sayej will speak on ‘Patriotic Ayatollahs: Nationalism in Post-Saddam Iraq’ at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, at Crozier Williams Student Center Building, Connecticut College, 270 Mohegan Avenue, New London, CT 06320. (MAP HERE)  

Members are encouraged to RSVP via online registration, but walk-ins and guests will be accepted.

Sayej, Associate Professor of Government and International Relations at Connecticut College, will discuss the contributions of senior clerics in state and nation-building after the 2003 Iraq war. These Grand Ayatollahs, the highest-ranking clerics of Iraqi Shiism, took on a new and unexpected political role after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Sayej will focus on the role of Ayatollah Sistani, who has been dubbed by observers as “the most important political figure in Iraq.” Contrary to standard narratives about religious actors, the Grand Ayatollahs were among the most progressive voices in the new Iraqi nation.

Sistani, in particular, held a transformative position as the “guardian of democracy” after 2003. He was instrumental in derailing American plans that would have excluded Iraqis from the state-building process—a remarkable story in which an octogenarian cleric took on the United States over the meaning of democracy.

Sayej received her Ph.D. in Political Science in 2006 from New York University, where she studied comparative politics with a focus on the Middle East.  Currently, she is an associate professor of government and international relations at Connecticut College.

She is also a core faculty member of the college’s Global Islamic Studies program.  Her research is on the relationship between state and society in Iraq, with an emphasis on the impact of religious groups on state and nation-building. 

Her first book, The Iraq Papers, was a co-edited interpretive reader on the Iraq War of 2003. Published by Oxford University Press in 2010, it chronicled the planning and execution of the war as well as the prevalent themes of the time: civil war, democracy, human rights, and oil politics. 

Her most recent publication, Patriotic Ayatollahs: Nationalism in Post-Saddam Iraq, was recently published by Cornell University Press in 2018.  It explores the critical role of the grand ayatollahs of Iraq in shaping the state, and is also the title of her presentation.

A reception on the second floor of the Crozier Student Center will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the main event beginning at 6 p.m. The presentation is a part of the SECWAC 2018-2019 Speaker Series.

For non-members, tickets ($20) may be purchased at the door or securely online prior to the event; ticket cost can subsequently be applied towards a SECWAC membership. Attendance is free for SECWAC members (and their guests); members can RSVP online. Membership September 2018 through June 2019 is $75; $25 for young professionals under 35; free for area college and high school students.

Immediately following the presentation, SECWAC meeting attendees have the option for $35 to attend a dinner with the speaker at Connecticut College. Reservations are required by Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, via online pre-registration, calling 860-912-5718, or emailing


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