Reincarnation, marriage, and memory: Negotiating sectarian identity among the Druze of Syria
AdvisorBasso, Ellen B.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation is based on twenty-one months of ethnographic fieldwork in Damascus and Suwyada, Syria. Research focused on the Druze religious sect. The central focus is on a religious minority's strategies for preserving their sense of separateness and uniqueness while at the same time claiming pan-Arab and patriotic Syrian affiliations. Three broad topics are used to discuss this: reincarnation, marriage, and memory. Because the primary focus is on a religious minority, one of the major concerns has been to elucidate notions of relational identity from a Druze point of view. This dissertation is an argument against any kind of facilely labeled Druze identity, and is an extended discussion of various facets of Druze experience, on what it means to be a member of a religious minority in the contemporary Middle Eastern state of Syria in the mid-1990s. Identity might be best understood as affiliations and affinities, multiply interacting levels of meaning, and a question of frequently adjusting focus and perspective. Reincarnation is not usually associated with Islam, and the Druze belief in reincarnation is one thing that sets this sect apart from the Sunni majority in Syria, even stigmatizes them. This dissertation also explores the nature of the everyday lived experience of Druze reincarnation, and how it is a point of cohesion for the community as a whole, but at the cost of some emotional splintering of individuals selves and families. Reincarnation has concrete social effects on both families and communities. It brings together members of unrelated families who otherwise would never have cause to know one another. Reincarnation also functions doctrinally to support the sect's prohibition against outmarriage. Outmarriage was perceived to be occurring with increasing frequency among the Druze in the 1990s, and was a hot topic of conversation. This dissertation explores the nature of ideologies being reproduced, as well as challenged and altered, through the debate ongoing in the community regarding marriage and outmarriage. Both reincarnation and outmarriage are topics that raise the issue of the Druze's relationship to non-Druze, and relational identity, since they both deal with ideologies of boundary maintenance, and "purity" of sect membership.
Degree ProgramGraduate College