From the Cross (and Crescent) to the Cedar and Back Again: Transnational Religion and Politics among Lebanese Christians in Senegal

Article excerpt


This article examines the changing relationship between religion, secularism, national politics, and identity formation among Lebanese Christians in Senegal. Notre Dame du Liban, the first Lebanese religious institution in West Africa, draws on its Lebanese "national" character to accommodate Lebanese Maronite Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians in Dakar, remaining an icon of "Lebanese" religion, yet departing from religious sectarianism in Lebanon. As such, transnational religion can vary from national religion, gaining new resonances and reinforcing a wider "secular" ethnonational identity. [Keywords: Transnational migration, ethnicity, Maronite Church, Senegal, Lebanon, religion, politics]

Foreign language translations:

From the Cross (and Crescent) to the Cedar and Back Again: Transnational Religion and Politics Among Lebanese Christians in Senegal

[Keywords: Transnational migration, ethnicity, Maronite Church, Senegal, Lebanon, religion, politics]

Abandonner la Croix (et du Croissant) au profit du Cèdre pour les retrouver: Religion et Politique transnationale des Libanais chrétiens au Sénégal

[Mots clés: Migration transnationale, Ethnicité, l'Eglise maronite, Sénégal, Liban, Religion, Politique]



Da Cruz (e do Quarto Crescente) ao Cedro, e Novamente de Regresso: Religiao e Políticas Transnacionais entre Christãos Libanenses no Senegal

[Palavras chaves: Migração transnacional, afiliação étnica, a Igreja Maronita, Senegal, Libano, religião, política]


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In the past few decades, social scientists have examined the interplay of politics and religion in the world, perhaps most famously through the now discredited secularization thesis. More recently, anthropologists (along with other social theorists) have begun to study the interconnection among secularism, religion, and nationalism, discounting yet another thesis- the decline of the nation-state. In this article, I seek to show how various forms of religious, secular, ethnic, and nationalist modes of identification and belonging overlap, and, at times, compete with one another, transforming some functions of the Lebanese Maronite Church in the diaspora in West Africa. Like Vora (2008), I understand diasporas as bounded groups which cannot be abstracted out of their particular contexts.

I follow Goldstone's (2007) approach, which moves beyond secularism's more common understanding of demarcating religious from non-religious institutions. He underscores secularism's "disciplining of religion in such a way that now renders it compatible with the norms and precepts of liberal, democratic governance" (2007:210). Drawing on Asad (2003), Goldstone argues that

a person's habits and sensibilities must be disciplined just to the extent that one's sense of political belonging-and the invention of a distinction between "political" and "religious" belonging is crucial here-no longer derives primarily from one's religious community... but is instead found in the nation-state and its values.1 (2007:208)

If we take the Maronite Catholic Church in Senegal as a proxy for the Lebanese homeland, I maintain, following Goldstone, that Lebanese secularism continues to mediate the interactions between religion and politics-and also between religion and ethnicity-while subject to the circumstances of being a minority community in Senegal (another postcolonial liberal democracy). Yet Lebanese diasporic secularism goes beyond Goldstone's model, where the political aims to supersede the religious in efforts to reify Dakar's Maronite Church as a Lebanese national church inclusive of all religious denominations.

Members of ethnic groups are often categorized by belonging to a particular religious community, speaking the same language, and following certain social practices. Lebanese, in contrast, are characterized by religious pluralism. …


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