Sectarianism, Proxies and De‑sectarianisation

SEPAD (the Sectarianism, Proxies and De-Sectarianization project) is an international research network and collaborative project based at Lancaster University’s Richardson Institute, the oldest peace and conflict research centre in the United Kingdom. 

Under the direction of Professor Simon Mabon and Dr Edward Wastnidge, SEPAD brings together more than 60 world renowned experts and early career scholars from over 20 countries in pursuit of knowledge production, policy engagement, impact and outreach activities, media work, and the raising of public awareness around questions of sectarianism, de-sectarianization, and the (international) politics of the Middle East. Since its formation in 2018, SEPAD has positioned itself as a leading global hub of research and expertise for all matters related to the emergence, evolution, and exploitation of sect-based difference in the region and beyond. 

Thanks to the cutting-edge expertise and close collaboration within SEPAD’s team, our work delivers comprehensive answers to multi-faceted problems operating across areas of study and disciplines, including Political Science, International Relations, Political Economy, Law, Criminology, Sociology, Political Geography, Anthropology, History, Area Studies and Linguistics. SEPAD receives generous funding from Carnegie Corporation of New York and has received funding from The Henry Luce Foundation. 

Our Mission 

The SEPAD project is aimed at improving our understanding of and devising strategies that deal with the conditions, trends, and dynamics that give rise to sectarian division, conflict, and transnational relationships in order to create space for the de-sectarianisation of socio-political life. Through interdisciplinary research and sustained engagement with relevant stakeholders, direct parties, civil society, and the broader public, we are committed to the advancement of the following objectives

  • The critical exploration of sectarian difference in all its complexity and of ideas and processes of de-sectarianization in the Middle East and beyond. 
  • The production, dissemination, and promotion of knowledge towards the prevention and mitigation of conflict, the building of peace, and the advancement of social harmony. 
  • Effective and meaningful cooperation with well-positioned actors with the aim of sharing policy recommendations, best practice and inducing positive change. 
  • Raising public awareness and debate regarding the evolving social, political, economic, and cultural conditions animating sectarianism and de-sectarianization. 
  • Critically challenging negative and damaging ideas about sect-based difference.

Our Activities 

As a global collective, SEPAD brings together scholars and policy experts with extensive experience, and a shared intellectual and sociopolitical commitment to serving the public interest from a range of backgrounds. Our activities are fundamentally driven by a desire to produce and disseminate world-leading knowledge on sectarianism, de-sectarianisation, and politics within –and between– states in the Middle East. 

Our research is disseminated to policymakers, the academic community, civil society actors and the general public through a wide range of outputs and engagement activities, including booksarticlesreports, briefings, blog postspodcastsvideo clipssocial media, and interactive projects. SEPAD organises a series of yearly in-person, online, and hybrid events, such as conferences, workshops, roundtables, lectures, seminars, and talks. Our Fellows make regular appearances on digital and traditional media outlets in the UK, Europe, the US, the Middle East and globally, through news interviews, commentaries, journalistic essays, op-eds, opinion pieces, and media quotes. 

SEPAD has a proven track record in the provision of concrete policy recommendations as to how the UK and other governments can better engage with countries where sect-based difference and violence operate, addressing key themes relating to peacebuilding, political, and socioeconomic issues. As such, we have an active presence in advisory roles in parliament, government institutions, and UK diplomatic missions, and have participated at events organised by international organisations like the United Nations and the European Union. Our Fellows have produced work on and been involved in diplomatic initiatives designed to improve relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

We collaborate with a number of prominent academic and policy-focused institutions working in and on the Middle East. We have developed successful partnerships and collaborative activities with NGOs, research institutes, education centres, and the wider academic community in the region. Our impact and engagement activities target global and local networks of scholarly expertise, key stakeholders amongst decisionmakers and policy planners in the UK and the Middle East, civil society actors, and the general public. 

Current Projects

This third round of funding (2022-2025) enables us to build on previous work around sectarianism, transnational conflicts, and de-sectarianisation both within and outside the Middle East to focus on the following: 

  • We continue to engage with complex political contexts in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.
  • We are conducting research on cases typically overlooked or under explored, namely Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel/Palestine, and Oman. Critically reflecting on forms of protest and the rejection of sectarian identities across the region. Such as mapping acts of de-sectarianisation across Iraq (The Tishreen Project

If you would like to know more about SEPAD or to get involved, please contact Professor Simon Mabon at You can also our progress on twitter or subscribe to our newsletter.