20 January 2023


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Professor Eugene Sensenig and Instructor Rouba El Helou’s joint study, “The Political Economy of Sectarianism and Coexistence in Lebanon,” was two years in the making, the Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) instructors at the Faculty of Law and Political Science (FLPS) having worked on the funded research project with the support of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR). Using a novel research route, Dr. Sensenig and Ms. El Helou’s applied social science study sought to uncover the causes of sectarianism and the potential for future coexistence in Lebanon. Utilizing the Base-Superstructure approach, the research team set the objective to create a link between political economy in Lebanon and a better understanding of the intersectional nature of the country’s historical, societal fabric. 

The duo assembled their research team, comprising other FLPS faculty members, 14 undergraduate and graduate students, as well as graphic designers and video editors, who gathered their collective efforts to create an integrated, open-source, online package, accessible to those seeking a fresh outlook on Lebanon’s current state. This resulted in a set of five online fact sheets with activities, examples for training or class discussions, and five videos hosted on a purpose-built microsite, all based on the principles of Creative Commons (CC) and Open Educational Resources (OER).

“We at the FLPS are proud of the dynamic team which was able not only to examine historical and contemporary changes in Lebanon, but also to establish new paradigms,” said Dr. Dany Samaha, the Faculty Dean. “We see our role in the Faculty as not only analyzing political and social developments, but also helping to improve the current situation through a unique educational approach.”

The FLPS research team surveyed both the economic Base (i.e., industry, commerce, agriculture, infrastructure, and the military) and the socio-political Superstructure (i.e., government, communications, arts, family, and religion) over a 150-year timeline. They then examined how these two societal layers interact or dialogue, thereby resulting in the Base-Superstructure Dialectic. The first goal in establishing this dynamic was to determine how this dialectic facilitates sectarianism in the country. The second was to determine if this same process can conversely lead to coexistence. Professor Sensenig, the primary investigator, coined the term, Political Economy of Coexistence, to be applied specifically to this project. In order to go beyond existing conflicts, Dr. Sensenig posits that “we need more than awareness-raising; we also need to develop transformative conflict skills, tools, and potential. Our research is grounded in critical content creation from a Southern perspective.” 

The OHCHR kicked off a series of similar projects in a total of nine universities in Lebanon with the project line, “Dealing with the Past: Memory for the Future Project,” under the Partnership Programme with the Universities in Lebanon. The FLPS project, “Mainstreaming History — A Gendered Approach to Reconstructing the Future,” was the only program taking a uniquely gendered approach based on the principles of intersectionality and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). It dealt with topics as widespread as farming, oil and natural gas, cinema, literature, tourism, education, and transportation infrastructure. Ms. El Helou, primary research and gender consultant, stated the following: “Despite the financial collapse in the country, we as educators wanted to celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion.” She added that the microsite, educational factsheets, and videos were the result of authentic self-reflection, attempting to bring change and knowledge to the classroom, to be shared widely with the community. 

The project focused as much on the journey as the destination, knowing that truly understanding Lebanese sectarianism is an ambitious feat. It did, however, provide a set of vitally needed tools to study the driving forces behind sectarianism: according to the results of the study, the multifaceted crises in the country are solidly rooted on the Base rather than Superstructure. The current lack of appreciation of this dialectic makes conflict, crisis, and corruption seem to be inevitable. However, by pointing to the manner in which sectarianism is constructed, one finds opportunities for deconstruction; teasing it apart and stitching it back together for a brighter future seems possible, and the route to coexistence becomes visible.

Dr. Samaha summarized this progressive undertaking towards coexistence in Lebanon: “The FLPS’s DEI strategy and innovative approach to higher education is founded in the University’s mission, serving not only our community, but the country as a whole.”



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