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  • Religious Conversion and Daʿwa SecularismTwo Practices of Citizenship in Lebanon
  • Maya Mikdashi (bio)

This dissertation is an ethnography that focuses on competing discourses and practices of secularity in contemporary Lebanon. It is situated at the intersections of legal anthropology, theories of secularism and religion, and interdisciplinary studies of the state and sexual/gendered citizenship. I focus on two phenomena. One is the Lebanese state’s regulation of religious conversion, a practice the state and its courts consider proof of their secularity. The state actively protects the rights of citizens to change their religions or their sects, often to the consternation of religious leaders and personal status courts. The second phenomenon is a broad youth-led social movement calling for a sixteenth secular personal status law, an addition that would effectively produce a secular sect with political, legal, and sexual rights that are different from other sectarian communities. This social movement considers secularism to have its own “culture,” one that promotes religious and cultural tolerance, women’s rights, economic independence, gay rights, and free speech. The advocates believe that a cultural revolution must take place in Lebanon before political sectarianism as a system of rule is ended, and they strive to saturate the public sphere with expressions of this culture. They seek to shift the moral and cultural landscape of the Lebanese public sphere—and the political and affective sensibilities of their cocitizens—toward secular attachments and ways of life. I conceptualize this as a form of secular daʿwa or proselytizing secularism. Bringing ethnography, court records, and research in personal status and civil courts together, I suggest that both secularism as a political/legal space and secularity as embodied practice are constructed not only through the regulation of religious or [End Page 254] sectarian difference but also through sexual difference. In Lebanon this regulation of sexual difference often travels through discourses of pluralism, diversity, and tolerance in ways that mirror discourses on sectarianism and secularism more broadly. [End Page 255]

Maya Mikdashi

MAYA MIKDASHI is an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Rutgers University. She received her PhD in anthropology from Columbia University in 2014. She codirected the documentary film About Baghdad and is a founding editor of the Jadaliyya Ezine. Contact:



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pp. 254-255
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