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In the Shadow of Sectarianism

In the Shadow of Sectarianism

Law, Shiʿism, and the Making of Modern Lebanon

Max Weiss

ISBN 9780674052987

Publication date: 10/30/2010

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Contrary to the conventional wisdom that sectarianism is intrinsically linked to violence, bloodshed, or social disharmony, Max Weiss uncovers the complex roots of Shiʿi sectarianism in twentieth-century Lebanon.

The template for conflicted relations between the Lebanese state and Shiʿi society arose under French Mandate rule through a process of gradual transformation, long before the political mobilization of the Shiʿi community under the charismatic Imam Musa al-Sadr and his Movement of the Deprived, and decades before the radicalization linked to Hizballah. Throughout the period, the Shiʿi community was buffeted by crosscutting political, religious, and ideological currents: transnational affiliations versus local concerns; the competing pull of Arab nationalism and Lebanese nationalism; loyalty to Jabal ʿAmil, the cultural heartland of Shiʿi Lebanon; and the modernization of religious and juridical traditions.

Uncoupling the beginnings of modern Shiʿi collective identity from the rise of political Shiʿism, Weiss transforms our understanding of the nature of sectarianism and shows why in Lebanon it has been both so productive and so destructive at the same time.


  • An eloquently written and elegantly argued study—from both above and below—of the ways in which sectarianism became an important part of life for the Shiʿi community in mandate Lebanon. Weiss provides a crucial addition to historical scholarship and a critical corrective to narratives that locate the beginnings of Shiʿi collective identity and action with the arrival of Musa al-Sadr on the scene—narratives that remain dominant not only in scholarly work but also in popular imagination in Lebanon. This sophisticated book makes innovative use of underutilized sources and is altogether a fascinating read. It will interest a wide range of readers, including historians, anthropologists, political scientists, Lebanon and Middle East specialists, and anyone interested in processes of political identity formation in the modern world.

    —Lara Deeb, Scripps College


  • Max Weiss is Assistant Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, and a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows, Harvard University.

Book Details

  • 356 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press