Nahas, Nathalie, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McKinnon, Susan, Anthropology, UVA

In Lebanon, a country known for its eighteen different religious sects living together side-by-side, coexistence is touted as a core national value that enshrines the country’s complex history. Yet, despite coexistence in the same nation, mixed marriages—marriages between Christians and Muslims—remain very difficult to contract. My dissertation, Tortuous Marriages: Kinship, Coexistence, and the Lebanese Nation-State, investigates why Christians and Muslims are able to coexist in the same nation but not in the same family. Considering these courtships through women’s voices, interjected by the concerns of family members, lawyers, religious authorities, and civil marriage activists, this ethnography shows how contested forms of kinship play a central role in defining the contours of nation-state.

While Euro-American narratives of modernity have relegated the family to the private realm, rendering it irrelevant to the construction of the public realm of the nation-state, the arguments that mixed marriages generate are dependent on entanglements between kinship, gender, and the nation-state. These marriages are seen to both encounter the limits of sectarian boundaries and simultaneously be able to transcend them. Therefore, at the heart of this dissertation is the claim that who and how you marry matters for the nation-state. As such, the reader is invited to walk the tangled and tortuous path with women in mixed marriages as they contend with the implications of their relationships that migrate across the domains of kinship, sect, religion, and the nation-state.

As women navigate crossing sectarian boundaries for the sake of love, they go back and forth, at times seeking to extract the individual from the genealogical inheritances of sect, at others affirming its importance. Their stories come to reflect the tensions intrinsic to coexistence and show how sect is a rich cultural category that intersects with gender, locality, and citizenship. In reading across domains, this dissertation argues that at stake in mixed marriages is the very vision upon which the Lebanese nation-state was formed.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Kinship, Marriage, Nation, Gender, Middle East, Lebanon
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