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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Al-Qaeda as Archetype: The Changing Face of Monotheism in the 21st Century

Dennis Hickey.

Osama bin Laden's and Ayman al-Zawahiri's Al-Qaeda organization is usually portrayed in the western press as an "Islamic fundamentalist" organization. This is a description that obscures more than it explains, since the Islamic content in its declarations and communiques serves as a matrix for a message that is secular, contemporary, and targeted at an audience that is only primarily, and not exclusively, Muslim. The argument in this paper is twofold: first, it is asserted that throughout the history of the three great monotheistic religions the distinction between the sacred and the secular has always been an arbitrary and artificial one (with the former acting as a powerful contextual vehicle for the latter, especially in times of collective stress); and secondly, with the increasing fluidity of movement across borders, the concurrent decline of the nation-state, and the widening accessibility of cyber (and other) electronic communications media during the 21st century, the role of the major monotheistic
religions as codifiers of identity and bearers of transnational political messages (and movements) can be expected to assume a whole new level of significance.


Dennis Hickey  (United States)
Associate Professor
Department of History and Anthropology
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

Co-author (with Kenneth C. Wylie of *An Enchanting Darkness: The American Vision of Africa in the Twentieth Century* (Michigan State University Press, 1993).

Recent paper presentations include "Frantz Fanon and the Spectre of Postcolonial Terrorism" (at the conference W.E.B. DuBois & Frantz Fanon: Postcolonial Linkages
and Transatlantic Receptions, University of Stirling, March 2002: and "A Paradigm Reconsidered: 9/11/2001 and the North/South Divide" at the 9th Conference of Africanists,
Moscow, May 2002

  • Religion
  • Islam
  • Globalisation
Person as Subject
  • bin Laden, Osama; al-Zawahiri, Ayman

(30 min Conference Paper, English)