On February 11, 2016, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies was pleased to host the American Druze Foundation (ADF) Post-Doctoral Fellowship Inaugural Ceremony. The evening included a reception and a lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Henley, the first ADF Post-Doctoral Fellow at CCAS. In his talk, “Becoming Lebanese, Institutionalizing Druzeness: How sects built new religious leaderships for modern Lebanon,” Henley began by highlighting how religious communities served as the building-blocks of modern Lebanon. He then focused his discussion on one of these building-blocks—the Druze community—and the history of the Sheikh al-Aql, its top religious office. Henley explained how the Sheikh al-Aql—similar to the muftis or patriarchs of Lebanon’s other communities—is the figurehead of the sect, a symbol of its distinctive identity, and the defender of its sovereignty, yet also the product of a very Lebanese idea of what a religious leader should look like. Lebanon’s communal building blocks, Henley argued, were reshaped by the state-building process, transforming rather than simply preserving their institutions. Henley closed by impressing upon the audience that neither religious leaders nor the sects they represent are “fixed in time” or isolated from the modern world, but rather are defined by constant negotiation with their surroundings. Scroll down for a video of Dr. Henley’s talk.
Alex Henley completed his PhD at the University of Manchester, England and holds degrees in Theology and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Durham in England. Prior to joining CCAS as the 2015-2016 ADF Post-Doctoral Fellow, Henley completed a joint fellowship at the Brookings Doha Center and Qatar University. He has previously taught at Harvard University and Middlebury College’s summer Arabic school.The American Druze Foundation (ADF) Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Druze and Arab Studies supports specialized social scientific research on the Druze communities, and on collective political and cultural identities in the Arab world more generally.