Sovereignty, Secularism, and the state in Lebanon
by Maya Mikdashi
Moderated by Nadya Sbaiti and Bassam Haddad
Cosponsored by the Schar School of Policy and Government, Arab Studies Institute, Center for Global Islamic Studies, Middle East and Islamic Studies Program at George Mason University
The Lebanese state is structured through religious freedom and secular power sharing across sectarian groups. Every sect has specific laws that govern kinship matters like marriage or inheritance. Together with criminal and civil laws, these laws regulate and produce political difference. But whether women or men, Muslims or Christians, queer or straight, all people in Lebanon have one thing in common—they are biopolitical subjects forged through bureaucratic, ideological, and legal techniques of the state.
With this book, Maya Mikdashi offers a new way to understand state power, theorizing how sex, sexuality, and sect shape and are shaped by law, secularism, and sovereignty. Drawing on court archives, public records, and ethnography of the Court of Cassation, the highest civil court in Lebanon, Mikdashi shows how political difference is entangled with religious, secular, and sexual difference. She presents state power as inevitably contingent, like the practices of everyday life it engenders, focusing on the regulation of religious conversion, the curation of legal archives, state and parastatal violence, and secular activism. Sextarianism locates state power in the experiences, transitions, uprisings, and violence that people in the Middle East continue to live.
Maya Mikdashi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University. Her first book Sextarianism: Sovereignty, Secularism and the State in Lebanon (SUP, 2022) theorizes the relationships between sexual difference and political difference, the religious and the secular, and law, bureaucracy, and biopower. Her work is grounded in ethnographic and archival research, and has been translated into Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish and German. Maya has been published in several peer reviewed journals, including the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Gay and Lesbian Quarterly, Transgender Studies Quarterly, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the Journal of Palestine Studies, and the American Indian Culture and Research Journal. She has also been published in peer reviewed edited volumes and in public facing venues. She is a co-founding editor of Jadaliyya.
Nadya Sbaiti is Assistant Professor at the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies (CAMES) at the American University Beirut (AUB). She is a co-founder and co-editor of Jadaliyya.
Bassam Haddad is Director of the Middle East and Islamic Studies Program and Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. He is the author of Business Networks in Syria: The Political Economy of Authoritarian Resilience (Stanford University Press, 2011) and co-editor of A Critical Political Economy of the Middle East (Stanford University Press, 2021). Bassam is Co-Founder/Editor of Jadaliyya Ezine and Executive Director of the Arab Studies Institute. He serves as Founding Editor of the Arab Studies Journal and the Knowledge Production Project. He is co-producer/director of the award-winning documentary film, About Baghdad, and director of the acclaimed series Arabs and Terrorism. Bassam serves on the Board of the Arab Council for the Social Sciences and is Executive Producer of Status Audio Magazine and Director of the Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI). He received MESA's Jere L. Bacharach Service Award in 2017 for his service to the profession. Currently, Bassam is working on his second Syria book titled Understanding the Syrian Tragedy: Regime, Opposition, Outsiders (forthcoming, Stanford University Press).