Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Electronic Theses and Dissertations bannerUC Berkeley

The Practice of Shi‘i Jurisprudence in Contemporary Lebanon


Drawing on ethnographic and archival research conducted in Lebanon and France between 2012 and 2014, this dissertation discusses Shi‘i methods of legal reasoning (ijtihad), and considers their incorporation into state juridical apparatuses. Since its colonial inception in 1926, the Lebanese state has harnessed the shari‘a tradition to regulate the family life of its Shi‘i citizenry. In order to properly grasp the ethical and epistemological transformations underlying the state’s appropriation of Shi‘i legal discourse, I suggest we first examine the training judges, clerics, and jurists receive in traditional hawza seminaries. This dissertation’s first three chapters show that learning to perform authoritative shari‘a reasoning requires not only developing a mastery of the sacred texts, but also submitting oneself to the discipline of the Shi‘i moral tradition.

The remaining chapters examine what Islamic legal reasoning becomes when it gets entangled with the judicial functions of a modern nation-state. To this end, I shift the ethnographic focus toward Beirut’s Shi‘i family courthouse, where hawza-trained judges are appointed by the Lebanese state to adjudicate familial disputes. I show that under the institutional and conceptual conditions of state legality, the Islamic legal tradition is divested of many of its interpretative possibilities and oriented toward the purpose of governing marital relationships uniformly. What accounts for this reorientation, I argue, is not so much the volition of individual judges, but the grammar of procedural norms and legal mechanisms through which these judges perform their work. While making this argument, I discuss the social and gender consequences of the Lebanese state’s appropriation of Shi‘i legal thinking.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View