Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Near Eastern StudiesInstitute for Research on Women (IRW) Scholar, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2008
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Columbia University
Conversion, the Politics of Secularism, and Personal Status Law in Lebanon

Conversion is usually understood as an act of faith. In Lebanon, the right to "change religions" is protected by the state, and citizens can and do convert their personal status in order to change the rights pertaining to their "private lives." for example, in particular circumstances, citizens will "convert" in order to fall under the purview of a different divorce or inheritance law. Secular activists often read this practice of conversion as an injury to religious subjectivity, even though it might not always be experienced as such by "converts." Through twelve months of ethnographic and archival research in Beirut, I will study the Lebanese personal status system through this mechanism of conversion, and through a political movement that seeks to add a "secular'' personal status law. I suggest that such codification may lay the legal infrastructure for the emergence of a "secular sect" in Lebanon. By studying these Lebanese "conversions," the religious and secular legal discourses addressing them, and the institutional terrains of the personal status system, I will contribute to theoretical debates on secularism, religion and what I take to be their Lebanese articulation, political sectarianism.