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This talk is about Saudi civil society, about politics 'from below' and 'everyday Islam' in Saudi Arabia. Dr Nora Derbal will discuss the findings of her first book, Charity in Saudi Arabia: Civil Society under Authoritarianism (CUP 2022). The book investigates non-profit organisations dedicated to the fight against poverty in Saudi Arabia and their struggle to improve the lives of marginalized communities. With the zakat considered one of the five pillars of Islam, non-profit organisations have enjoyed relative freedom and legitimacy under the umbrella of charity, which has enabled all kinds of activism. By following those social workers, philanthropists and social activists, who engage on the ground for the poor and needy of the kingdom, the book sketches a rich ethnography of community activism and the inner workings of Saudi society. The research explains how Saudis and non-Saudis in Saudi Arabia find in Islam a worldly guide and ethical frame that is often at odds with religious officialdom.


Dr Nora Derbal is currently a postdoc at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her first book, Charity in Saudi Arabia: Civil Society under Authoritarianism, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2022, and selected as 'Book of the Year 2022' by the Times Literary Supplement. Nora Derbal has studied Islamic Studies and History at Freie Universität Berlin, Oxford University and King Abd al-Aziz University in Jeddah, and earned a PhD in Islamic Studies from Freie Universität in 2017. Before joining the Hebrew University, she held a postdoc at the American University in Cairo and worked as a research assistant at the Orient-Institut Beirut.

Event details

River Room
Strand Building
Strand Campus, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS