Theses Doctoral

Religious Conversion and Da`wa Secularism: Two Practices of Citizenship in Lebanon

Mikdashi, Maya

This dissertation focuses on the different ways that religion and secularism are understood and articulated through the practices of Lebanese citizens. Situated at the intersections of legal anthropology, theories of secularism and religion, and interdisciplinary studies of the state and gendered citizenship, my research invites us to rethink theories of liberalism, feminism, and secular modernity by demonstrating how they manifest in non-Western contexts. My project thus challenges us to think more critically about the supposed universality of Euro American articulations of secularism, liberalism, and feminism and asks us to reexamine how these categories are circulated and regulated internationally. I study two practices of Lebanese citizenship; religious conversion as an act that moves between different personal status laws, and advocacy for a secular personal status and/or civil marriage law. This advocacy is a crucial part of what I am calling "da`wa secularism," a term that brings into relief the pedagogical aspect of an activism that aims to saturate the public sphere with a "culture of secularism." Both conversion and da'wa secularism are practices that are predicated on and directed towards the Lebanese legal system. Acts of conversion rely on the laws currently in place; advocacy for a secular personal status seeks to reform them. Despite this divergence between these two practices of Lebanese citizenship, both are couched in and discursively reproduce important aspects of the ideological framework of the Lebanese state. These aspects include the secularity of the state, the role the state is supposed to play in ensuring the protection of Lebanon's pluralism, and the state's mandate to buffer citizens from the overreaching of religious personal status institutions. However, conversion reproduces the state's secularity as the universal space which allows a citizen to change religions freely, while activists suggest that this form of secularism is deficient, dangerous, and "not truly" secular. Similarly, acts of conversion reproduce the citizen as a category of practice that is refracted through the registers of personal status and civil/secular laws and within which the latter has ultimate jurisdiction over the former, while advocacy for a secular personal status seeks to produce Lebanese citizens that are only, and entirely, under the jurisdiction of the civil and secular state. At stake are contending views of secularism, religion, and citizenship.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Mikdashi_columbia_0054D_11912.pdf Mikdashi_columbia_0054D_11912.pdf application/pdf 7.88 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Povinelli, Elizabeth
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014