Professor Lara Deeb Honored with British-Kuwait Friendship Society Book Prize in Middle Eastern Studies

Scripps College Professor of Anthropology Lara Deeb’s book Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Morality and Geography in Shi’ite South Beirut, is the 2014 recipient of the British-Kuwait Friendship Society Book Prize in Middle Eastern Studies from the British Society for Middle East Studies. The prize, awarded for the best English language first-edition published scholarly work on the Middle East, has been presented since 1998. A cash stipend of up to ten-thousand British pounds, or roughly fifteen-thousand dollars, is included with the honor.

Leisurely Islam coverLeisurely Islam was released in 2013 and is co-authored by Professor Mona Harb of American University of Beirut.

“I was happily surprised to learn about the award,” Deeb says. “It’s quite an honor in my field.”

Since the prize’s inception, more than 650 books have been considered for the award. Submissions have increased dramatically in the past few years, and this year Leisurely Islam competed against nearly 50 books.

Leisurely Islam is a superb book,” noted the prize’s official review. “[It] surpasses most studies of contemporary Middle Eastern cities with its sensitivity, its aliveness to theoretical exposition, with the coherence and fluidity of its writing, and with its extraordinary contribution not only to scholarship but to our general understanding – both political and social – of what leisure might mean in the context of a given neighborhood, what the politics of a neighborhood are, and how youth participate in both quotidian and high-level politics of their time.”

The book addresses the exponential growth of cafés, restaurants, and leisure areas in south Beirut, an area typically characterized by the media as a Shi’a and Hezbollah hub. Young Shi’ite Muslims share their thoughts on exploring the moral dilemmas presented by café culture, while Hezbollah officials and religious leaders worry about generational change. Deeb and Harb attempt to answer the question: How are the leisure activities of Lebanese youth affecting the moral norms, spatial practices, and urban experiences in their community? Their research further examines the complexities created by multiple political movements, generational interests, and religious authorities, in a context where class mobility is changing the sociopolitical landscape of modern Lebanon.

Deeb, who also serves as department chair for anthropology, has taught at Scripps College since 2008.