The historiography of the Gulf has long been dominated by narratives originating in the British colonial archive, where the thoughts and perceptions of late nineteenth-century British colonial officers can still be traced in much writing in English on the Gulf today. In Bahrain’s case, not only was the same ethno-sectarian language found in the colonial archive in such writing, but also the mode of thought, political coding, and interpretations of society have remained consistently within the colonial framework. In Contested Modernity, Omar al-Shehabi interrogates what he calls “the ethno-sectarian colonial gaze” used to navigate Bahrain’s modern history in much of the Anglophone scholarship on the country and the region. He achieves this by challenging and dismantling the idea that ethno-sectarian political mobilization is a product of Bahrain’s native social relations.

In his introductory chapter, titled “Approaching Absolutism, Nationalism, and Sectarianism in the Gulf,” al-Shehabi argues that ethno-sectarian mobilization is...

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