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Beyond Sunni and ShiaThe Roots of Sectarianism in a Changing Middle East$
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Frederic Wehrey

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190876050

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190876050.001.0001

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Religious Authority and Sectarianism in Lebanon

Religious Authority and Sectarianism in Lebanon

(p.283) 12 Religious Authority and Sectarianism in Lebanon
Beyond Sunni and Shia

Alexander D.M. Henley

Oxford University Press

Lebanese religious leaders are often treated as authentic representatives of their sects and are given broad powers over religious affairs. However, their leadership is not organic, nor are they necessarily popular, as these individuals are trained and selected by elite institutions. Lebanon’s political system institutionalizes the representation of various religious sects and grants their leaders broad powers over religious affairs, including personal-status courts, wealthy endowments, places of worship, education, and the centralized employment of clerics. Lebanese religious leaders do not incite sectarian hatred. They are invested in coexisting within and preserving the political system that confers their power. In some respects, religious representatives are well-placed to defuse sectarian tension. They tend to publically oppose the politicization of sectarian divisions, and can be instrumental in deradicalization. But the way Lebanon recognizes and empowers exclusivist religious leaders also exacerbates the country’s difficulty in faithfully representing its religious diversity. These leaders promote narrow orthodoxies that marginalize and at times radicalize nonconformists such as Islamists or secularists. Religious leaders help perpetuate a sectarian system that inhibits social integration and has suppressed the representation of diversity rather than improved it. Their monopoly over religious affairs maintains divisions between citizens and confines them to communally bound lives.

Keywords:   Lebanon, Communal, Sectarianism, Clerics, Authority, Shiism, Druze, Sunnism

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