By recasting the relationship between religion and nationalism
in the Middle East, Roschanack Shaery-Eisenlohr proposes a new
framework for understanding Shi'ite politics in Lebanon. Her study
draws on a variety of untapped sources, reconsidering not only the
politics of the established leadership of Shi'ites but also
institutional and popular activities of identity production.
Shaery-Eisenlohr traces current Shi'ite politics of piety and
authenticity to the coexistence formula in Lebanon and argues that
engaging in the discourses of piety and coexistence is a
precondition to cultural citizenship in Lebanon. As she
demonstrates, debates over the nature of Christianity and Islam and
Christian-Muslim dialogue are in fact intertwined with power
struggles at the state level.
Since the 1970s, debates in the transnational Shi'ite world have
gradually linked Shi'ite piety with the support of the Palestinian
cause. Iran's religious elite has backed this piety project in
multiple ways, but in doing so it has assisted in the creation of a
variety of Lebanese Shi'ite nationalisms with competing claims to
religious and national authenticity. Shaery-Eisenlohr argues that
these ties to Iran have in fact strengthened the position of
Lebanese Shi'ites by providing, as is recognized, economic,
military, and ideological support for Hizbullah, as well as by
compelling Lebanese Shi'ites to foreground the Lebanese components
of their identity more forcefully than ever before.
Shaery-Eisenlohr challenges the belief that Shi'ite identity
politics only serve to undermine the Lebanese national project. She
also makes clear that the expression of Lebanese Shi'ite identity
is a nationalist expression and an unintended result of Iranian
efforts to influence the politics of Lebanon.
Subjects: History, Anthropology, Religion
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