The Arab Institute for Women

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Panel Discussion: Sextarianism

On January 23, 2023, The Arab Institute for Women (AiW) at the Lebanese American University (LAU) hosted, in a full house event, a panel discussion on Dr. Maya Mikdashi’s book “Sextarianism”, which offers a renewed understanding of power politics and the relationship between sex and sect in Lebanon.

In an opening statement, Director of The AiW, Ms. Myriam Sfeir, welcomed the attendees, introduced the honorary guest (Dr. Lina Abirafeh: Senior Advisor for Global Women’s Rights at The AiW), the panelists (Dr. Maya Mikdashi: Author of the book and Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) at Rutgers University; Dr. Suad Joseph: Distinguished Research Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Davis in the U.S.; and Ms. Nay El Rahi: Researcher at The AiW), and the moderator, Dr. Gabriella Nassif: Managing Editor of Al-Raida Journal).

In an opening intervention, Dr. Joseph applauded Dr. Mikdashi’s accomplishment and emphasized the book’s important contributions in understanding Lebanon’s intricate political, social, familial, sexual, and sectarian composition. Then, she briefly reviewed some of the key concepts of the book, unpacked the concept of “sextarianism”, and finally raised few questions for reflection.  

Following Dr. Joseph’s word, Dr. Mikdashi delivered an enlightening presentation in which she summarized her book’s major findings, reemphasized important arguments and shared some final thoughts. As she clearly explained, her book reinterprets the concepts of secularism and sovereignty to produce a nonconventional understanding of Lebanon’s complex web of political and social constructs. Dr. Mikdashi indeed employs historic, ethnographic, and feminist methodological approaches in her analysis.

In a commentary, Ms. El Rahi shared with the audience her three-dimensional analysis of the book which considers content, message, and relatability to the context as units of analysis. As she argued, the book presents an important academic framing of abstract notions, narratives, and power. Ms. El Rahi finally concluded her intervention by discussing some of the main concepts mentioned in the book and presented a brief reflection, based on her research and personal experiences, on the book’s main arguments.

The panel discussion concluded with a Q&A session.