[P4375] The Shi'a of Lebanon: New Approaches to History, Politics, and Religion

Created by Mara Leichtman
Sunday, 11/20/16 10:00am


This panel brings together the latest interdisciplinary research on Lebanese Shi'ism within history, religious studies, and the social sciences. Whereas most scholarship on Lebanese Shi'ism focuses on the political movement Hizbullah, these papers explore new ground while also providing fresh perspectives on the organization. Participants in this panel are also contributors to a special journal issue that spans the early 20th century to the present. We hope to broaden knowledge about Shi'ism in Lebanon by focusing on revisionist historical and juridical accounts in addition to examining new nationalist religious discourses and transnational development practices. MESA offers an opportunity for authors to meet, share their work with one another, and to benefit from the critical feedback of experts in the field who have agreed to serve as chair and discussant.

The first paper addresses the influence of Sunni thought on Lebanese Shi'i clerics returning to Lebanon from Iraqi seminaries. This shifts the dominant narrative about Shi'ism away from the spread of the Iranian revolution and increasing sectarian divisions, particularly as Ayatollahs Fadlallah and Shams al-Din were influential in the Shi'i revitalization of the 1970s and 1980s, including the ideology of Hizbullah. These Shi'i political thinkers were also behind transformative reforms in women's rights. The second paper investigates Shams al-Din's juridical authority in legal changes leading to women's right to divorce without the husband's approval, in addition to rights to custody, maintenance, and bridal gifts.

The contributions on Hizbullah tackle the subject from original viewpoints that do not examine the organization as a terrorist group or idealize it as a positive example of the integration of Islamists and politics. Politics are inherent in the writing of history. Our third paper assesses the documentary films and children's books produced by Hizbullah's educational and cultural institutions to write the Shi'a into Lebanon's national historiography. The next paper offers discourse analysis of the speeches of the Secretary General of Hizbullah during the annual Shi'i mourning period of Ashura. The author focuses in particular on Nasrallah's representations of the Syrian crisis and the fight against Sunni radical militant formations. Hizbullah's transnational connections are also evaluated in our final paper, which provides an analysis of the Lebanese branch of the Iranian development organization Construction Jihad, illustrating the sometimes tense relationship between Hizbullah and Iran.


Pol Science




Rola El-Husseini

(Lund University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer;

Linda Sayed

(Michigan State University-James Madison College)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Eric Lob

(Florida International University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;