An Enchanted Modern Gender and Public Piety in Shi`i Lebanon by Lara Deeb (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. 263 pages.)

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Bridget Blomfield



In An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi`i Lebanon, cultural
anthropologist Lara Deeb writes an ethnography about a group of
Shi`i Muslim women in a Beirut community. She follows their religious
and social commitments, allows them to express their individual and collective
sentiments, and describes their understanding of piety and how they
manifest it in their commitment to social activism. She argues that they create
a space for Islam within the modern world and that the notions Islam
and modernity are not contradictory, but rather complementary. Her subjects
practice authenticated Islam, which she defines as an Islam that has a
modern interpretation based on knowledge and understanding, in contrast
to a traditional, unquestioned Islam that is followed blindly by the older

Deeb uses interviews and participant observation to ascertain her interlocutors’
multiple discourses. These women, having steadfastly studied their
religion, locate themselves as pious women who can construct and define
themselves in the modern world without succumbing to the pressures of
western standards of modernity. Loosely associated with the Hizbullah political
party, her subjects live in al-Dahiyya, an area of southern suburban
Beirut (considered a Shi`i ghetto) that houses some 500,000 people.
In the West, these women are seen as religious fundamentalists akin to
the Taliban. The goals of Deeb’s book are to dismiss this gross inaccuracy,
suggest that Islam is not a static and monolithic religion, and show that Islam
and modernity are compatible. She describes how the women she interviewed
perceived modernity in the western sense, as well as their own idea
of what Deeb calls “enchanted ways of being modern.” This “enchanted
modern” form of piety emphasizes the importance of both material and spiritual
progress as well as a “new kind of religiosity, one that involves conscious
and conscientious commitment.” ...

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