The multitude of sects in Lebanon, compounded by a decentralized government, has led to a highly fragmented society. Largely influenced by their roles during the state’s historical development, sects maintain different nationalist viewpoints, influencing their political ambitions and decisions. While some argue that Lebanon should form its own national identity, others argue that Lebanon should integrate into the larger Muslim-Arabic fabric of the Middle East. The fragmented government grants each sect more autonomy to dictate its own affairs, including the ability to establish separate school systems and insert divergent nationalist views in schools, limiting the interaction between sects from adolescence onward. However, as students exit the sectarian environment, say to pursue higher education abroad, they are given the independence to reevaluate their bias and articulate their sectarian and nationalist beliefs. This study aims to identify how students’ removal from a sectarian environment influences their biases.
Recent scholarship has focused on the impact of sectarianism within Lebanon’s education system. However, in order to determine the depth of students’ sectarian biases, it is important to understand what happens when they are removed from this environment. In order to do so, this study surveys over 75 Lebanese students who are currently attending university in the United States. Questions focus on students’ educational and familial backgrounds, their preexisting notions of sectarianism, and their current perceptions of sectarianism.
To fully understand the notion that students’ sectarian and nationalist identities are malleable based on their environment, further research would be required to survey students who have both exited and re-entered Lebanon. That said, the results of this study indicate that sectarian division, which is currently seen as a deep-rooted reality within Lebanon’s society, may be more circumstantial than previously understood.