Cover of Sextarianism by Maya Mikdashi
Sovereignty, Secularism, and the State in Lebanon
Maya Mikdashi


June 2022
288 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503628878
Paperback ISBN: 9781503631557
Ebook ISBN: 9781503631564

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Excerpts and More

Winner of the 2023 AMEWS Book Award, sponsored by the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies.

Honorable Mention the 2023 Michelle Z. Rosaldo Book Prize, sponsored by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) - Association for Feminist Anthropology.

Winner of the 2023 Fatema Mernissi Book Award, sponsored by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA).

Winner of the 2023 Gregory Bateson Book Prize, sponsored by the Society for Cultural Anthropology.

Winner of the 2023 LGBTQA Caucus Book Award, sponsored by the International Studies Association (ISA).

The Lebanese state is structured through religious freedom and secular power sharing across sectarian groups. Every sect has specific laws that govern kinship matters like marriage or inheritance. Together with criminal and civil laws, these laws regulate and produce political difference. But whether women or men, Muslims or Christians, queer or straight, all people in Lebanon have one thing in common—they are biopolitical subjects forged through bureaucratic, ideological, and legal techniques of the state.

With this book, Maya Mikdashi offers a new way to understand state power, theorizing how sex, sexuality, and sect shape and are shaped by law, secularism, and sovereignty. Drawing on court archives, public records, and ethnography of the Court of Cassation, the highest civil court in Lebanon, Mikdashi shows how political difference is entangled with religious, secular, and sexual difference. She presents state power as inevitably contingent, like the practices of everyday life it engenders, focusing on the regulation of religious conversion, the curation of legal archives, state and parastatal violence, and secular activism. Sextarianism locates state power in the experiences, transitions, uprisings, and violence that people in the Middle East continue to live.

About the author

Maya Mikdashi is Assistant Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and a Lecturer in the Middle East Studies Program at Rutgers University.

"Maya Mikdashi's gloriously written Sextarianism is the book we have been waiting for. Deeply personal in its tone, expansively political in its intent, this book draws on unusual archives and intimate knowledge of Lebanon to show the relation between gender, sexuality, and the state in all its ambivalent, messy complexity."

—Laleh Khalili, University of London

"Sextarianism is luminous. Maya Mikdashi brings panache and an exquisite eye for the quotidian to diverse objects of analysis, all while prying open new conversations about archival research as collective labor. A must-read for anyone studying state formation, the geopolitics of queer theory, and secularism, with implications far beyond Lebanon."

—Jasbir Puar, Rutgers University

"A tour de force by one of the most dynamic, iconoclastic, and original socio-political analysts of the Arab world of this generation. Maya Mikdashi's Sextarianism will transform the way Lebanon has been understood; more radically, it will force everyone to rethink how religious and sexual differences work at/as the nexus of states and citizenship."

—Lila Abu-Lughod, Columbia University

"Both theoretically sophisticated and deeply poignant, Sextarianism disrupts assumptions that secularism liberates people from religion, challenging idealized solutions to political-sectarianism. Readers are gifted with marvelously vivid and careful ethnography, through which Maya Mikdashi brings to life the often-painful effects of state sectarian practices on people's lives in Lebanon."

—Lara Deeb, Scripps College

"Using court records, Mikdashi... disentangles the ways in which the sectarian Lebanese state handles sexual difference through the application of personal status laws....Recommended."

—M. L. Russell, CHOICE